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Let's fix up the Zimmer trail

Aug 21, 2012 - By Jamie Drendel

On a recent road trip with Rivertonians, I learned that my interest in the pioneers who crossed this country in butt-breaking wagons isn't unique to my status as a Midwesterner.

Those who grew up here share my curiosity even after being subjected to countless school lessons and field trips on the history of Fremont County.

I had Lincoln and flatlands; they had fur trappers and unbelievably rough terrain. I grew bored. They still wonder.

And no matter how many books and roadside histories I read, I will never be able to grasp how rough that journey was.

But I know where I can get a taste, and it's only 1.2 miles from my house.

Actually, anyone can get a feel. Grab a bike with a hard seat and no shock absorbers and head down the Darcie Zimmer Memorial Recreation Path that parallels North Eighth Street West north of Sunset Drive.

I'm pretty sure that after a good bike ride, the exerciser can expect to be sore in her legs. She should not expect to be sore in her hands, elbows and somewhat bony buttocks because the pavement she rode on more resembled the lunar surface than something man paved.

In a 1983 story about the city's need for more recreation trails, former managing editor Dave Perry wrote, "People pursuing recreational opportunities are attracted by North Eighth West's straight course through fertile farmland and bluffs left dry by the Wind River."

That remains true -- it's a scenic stretch of road.

A ride down this particular trail includes the sound of irrigation channels full of rushing water, quiet scenes of country living, and restorative views of the Owl Creek Mountains.

It also includes washed out, eroded and buckled sections of asphalt, flora flourishing in wide cracks in the path, and empty beer bottles that glitter in the setting sun.

This trail and I are similar in age, but unlike her, I've had a few sealings and repavings over the years. People who cared about me helped me change in positive ways.

To the best of my knowledge, the Darcie Zimmer Memorial Recreation Path has never had this influence, and she is overdue for one.

For bikers, the path has become unsafe, which makes its neighboring road the more appealing option, undermining the reason the trail was constructed in the first place.

The pathway is named for Darcie Marie Zimmer, a 15-year-old girl who died Aug. 21, 1983, after being hit by a vehicle while riding her bike. The accident occurred on the very road that now seems safer than the path that was built in her memory.

Her obituary said she was active in "volleyball, girl's basketball, track, summer softball and was a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes."

In other words, she was an athlete, and in that case, it would seem she died doing what she loved to do. It's unfortunate there wasn't a safe place for her to do it then, and it's a shame now to see the level of disrepair her trail has fallen into.

A sign on the pathway lists several groups that were responsible for the path's creation. The contributors listed are individual donors, the Wyoming Recreation Commission, the Riverton Recreation District 25, the Fremont County Recreation Commission, the City of Riverton, Fremont County and the Riverton Pathway Committee.

Times are tough for governments everywhere, but perhaps those same groups can reunite to repair the trail they worked together to create.

Streets get potholes and water pipes leak, and it's vital for cities and counties to fix them, but a city with a stellar infrastructure and no amenities is hardly a city worth staying in.

And why can't a bike path be considered needed infrastructure?

In April, Denmark opened an 11-mile bicycle "superhighway" that connects its capital, Copenhagen, to a suburb, according to a recent New York Times article.

Danes bike more than Americans do, they're thinner than we are, and even though we're richer, they're happier.

According to a 2008 U.S. News and World Report article, 18 percent of trips in Denmark are made by bicycle, while that rate drops to 1 percent in the United States. America finishes first in the "most obese" category and Denmark comes in far below at No. 24, according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The organization also reports that Danes rank first in life satisfaction out of 36 countries tracked while we rank 12th but finish first in regard to household wealth.

The report demonstrates that money doesn't buy happiness.

But money could buy bike paths, bike paths that could promote both happiness and trimmer waistlines in our ever-expanding populace.

The rebuilt two-mile trail doesn't have to be only a financial drain; it also could be an economic boon to the city and county.

On July 28, the second Go Fremont County triathlon drew in competitors from numerous Wyoming cities and at least four other states. Having a pre-made, event-ready course would make it easier for more groups to organize more races, races that will fill hotel rooms, restaurant tables and barstools with out-of-town guests.

And if someday, somehow this trail could be connected with the also-needing-repairs Rails to Trails path, the Riverview Road trail and the line paralleling West Sunset Drive, then Riverton could become a lead destination for competitive runs, walks and bike races.

Darcie Zimmer deserves a better memorial. The 30th anniversary of her death is Aug. 21, 2013, exactly one year away.

Let's greet it with a rededication on a safer surface.

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