After we skied, our 10-year-old grandson spent some time sitting in the snow in front of the big full-colored sign, reading about Tom Pfeifle’s life, and about his death.
“That’s sad that he died,” Jackson said, studying the biography and pictures that welcome visitors to the Tom Pfeifle Trails at Raider Park.
They are fetching pictures that capture essentials of a life that was far too short but was lived and loved intensely by Pfeifle, who died in the summer of 2016 when he fell while descending from the summit of Montana’s highest peak. He was 19.
In one of the pictures, Pfeifle celebrates a cycling win with arms over his head, one hand in a fist and the other clenching a trophy; in another, he pushes himself hard during a running event with obvious joy; and, in a third, he looks straight at the camera with arms crossed and a beaming face that shows both boy and man.
“It was very sad,” I said to Jackson, who still studied the pictures. “But isn’t it nice that there’s this place where people can come to do things he liked to do and to remember him, as we’re doing right now?”
Jackson decided that was more than nice. It was awesome.
Tom Pfeifle’s parents, Craig and Jane, certainly agree.
“Tom had a real interest in getting people out in the wilderness and being physically active,” Craig said. “And the idea that because of this place more people will be physically active and want to protect our environment would really make him happy.”
The trails are on 38 acres of public-school land across from Stevens High School, a place where Tom Pfeifle graduated after excelling in sports, music, academics and making friends. It’s a patch of rolling prairie right here in the city, with a few trees — and a few more to come — and some stands of native grasses likely to be enhanced and expanded as well.
Money for much of the work comes through a non-profit formed and led by friends of the family and supported through the Tom Pfeifle 5k run.
Jane Pfeifle said taking a piece of little-used, sometimes-abused green space and helping it find its potential is just what her ecologically oriented son would have wanted.
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“What a great way to recycle this land and repurpose it to something positive,” she said. “And it’s been positive for us. We’ve spent a lot of time over there picking up trash and removing branches, and running.”
With hiking and biking trails being developed, the recreational-and-wellness opportunities on the land are obvious. But so are the educational ones. Stevens math teachers Tom Keck and Seth Keene are leading that work.
Jane Pfeifle said the plan could include an arboretum and eventually even a pavilion of some kind, and places where classes in math and science and English could find outdoor-lab options and inspiration.
Hiking it or biking it or sliding across it on cross-country skis, you can see a landscape full of potential.
“Someday, they’d like to host a cross-country meet there, too,” Jane said. “And it would be a great place to watch cross country.”
Indeed, it would make a wonderful place to run or watch cross country. But Mary and I had different sport in mind as we looked for a close-in option for a quick cross-country ski trip on a chilly Saturday a while back.
It was the perfect choice. We drove there in 10 minutes, skied for 45, and were home in just over an hour. The trails are easy for a clumsy skier like me, with enough hills to provide some thrills for a more advanced skier like Mary.
We were in the company of hawks, and took time on a hilltop to consider the view in all directions. A week later, we were back with Jackson, who liked the skiing but was even more interested in the sign, the pictures and the little story about a short life well lived.
We lingered on the last line of the sign: “Enjoy the trails at Raider Park in Tom’s memory.”
We do. You should, too.
He would like that.