The view of housing projects from the top of the new slope opening Thanksgiving Day near the Hess Water Purification Facility in Parker on Nov. 19, 2020 (Kevin Mohatt, Special to The Denver Post)
PARKER – Not much is opening these days as COVID-19 continues to spread throughout Colorado, prompting closure or imposing further restrictions on recreation centers, gyms and other gathering spots in an effort to slow the continued spread of the coronavirus.
But on Thanksgiving Day, the Rueter-Hess Incline Challenge will debut in the midst of this historic pandemic, offering 132 steps of gasp and pull that will take the user 60 meters closer to the sky. And the reward for reaching the top isn’t bad.
Spectacular views await at Longs Peak to the north and Pikes Peak to the south, with the gleaming skyscrapers of downtown Denver visible in between. On one side, the seemingly endless subdivisions of Denver’s southern suburbs stretch out, while on the other, the glittering waters of the still-filling Rueter-Hess Reservoir loom over the dam.
“If there is one thing that is welcome at COVID, it is this,” said Maleia Good, manager of Rueter-Hess Recreation. “How do you argue that we don’t do this?”
Coloradans have shown unbridled enthusiasm for the outdoors and outdoor recreation since the pandemic struck in March, taking advantage of activities where fresh air and social aloofness are both predominant and possible.
The debut of the ramp comes amid another round of restrictions on the operation of gyms and recreation centers in Colorado counties that have fallen into the “Serious Risk” category of Tier Red, which includes the entire metro area except Weld County.
The rules, which reduce the occupancy in gyms to 10% of the maximum capacity, came into effect on Friday.
“The timing is great,” said Mary Colton, Parker’s director of parks and recreation. “With restrictions in place, it is a great amenity and option for people to go outside.”
Not that there are no coronavirus rules for the slope. Visitors can only climb the 10-inch by 10-inch, 6-foot-long wooden steps – the journey back to the parking lot is via a gravel path on the east side of the hill.
The Rueter-Hess Incline Challenge is the newest outdoor stairway facility to open in Colorado, following the launch of The Challenge Hill at Philip S. Miller Park in Castle Rock in 2018. While the Rueter-Hess Incline has greater elevation gain than Castle It Rock’s offering (even though it has 68 fewer steps), neither comes close to the grandfather of them all – the Manitou Incline.
Manitou has over 2,700 steps and an elevation gain of 2,000 feet over less than a mile. It closed for several months in the spring after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the state.
Retired South Metro Fire District firefighter Randy Capra, 58, gave the Rueter-Hess ramp early training ahead of its opening last week. He said The Challenge Hill in Castle Rock can get very crowded, often making him feel like a “bowling pin” during the ascent as users come up the steep incline.
“I like that it’s a little over a mile (the full loop) – you can do it five times and get a five mile workout,” he said of the Rueter-Hess Challenge Incline. “It’s just a good workout.”
Jeff Bauer, director of parks and recreation for Castle Rock, doesn’t see the new slope in Parker as a threat to his town’s steps.
“We don’t see it as competition – we see it as an addition to our system at Castle Rock,” he said. “It’s a great relief for people in a pandemic.”
Last week, Bauer rolled out plans to further reduce occupancy in the Douglas County City Recreation Facilities and also put in place a reservation system to keep crowds to a minimum.
He and Colton are both on the boards of the Rueter-Hess Recreation Authority, which was founded six years ago. While the authority has a long-term master plan that calls for building miles of hiking trails, camping sites, and expanding aquatic activities to include fishing, Bauer said the new slope is the first permanent feature to be opened at the reservoir.
Construction on the slope began in June and was completed earlier this month. It comes with a 28-space car park, which officials hope to triple when funding becomes available. The trailhead is located next to the Rueter-Hess Water Purification Facility at 11865 Heirloom Parkway.
“We consider it an outdoor exercise barrier,” said Bauer. “It’s something that can immediately improve your training level.”
But it will also be nice for the less rigorous mind, said recreation manager Good.
Families, the elderly, children – anyone with dozens of steps of energy in them – will be able to tackle it. And then enjoy the impressive view at the top of step 132, surrounded by yucca and prairie grass.
“It’s a jewel on the prairie,” she said.
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