Nearing the homestretch of his tumultuous 12-year tenure as mayor of Ogden, Matthew Godfrey and the city council are deciding what final goals can be accomplished. I have a suggestion: how about restoring pedestrian access to a one-block stretch of road between the Ogden River and Ogden City Cemetery?
You know that scary-looking piece of asphalt just across the river from Ogden's world-famous No Dumping sign and a graffiti-covered metal gate, rendered completely useless since its rusted hinges busted and the bar was left wide open?
People have been dumping yard trimmings, construction debris, and garbage there for years. Two years ago, somebody dumped a deer carcass. It deteriorated through the seasons, gradually drifting into the ditch at the side of the road. Dogs tore it to pieces. Kids played with the bones.
"That's terrible!" said the lady behind the counter of the nearby Ogden Recreation Department when I reported the situation. "Somebody should do something." Somehow I don't think the message got to Mayor Godfrey.
I pass through this vale of iniquity every day on my way to work, along with scores of other inner-city residents, school children, gangsters, bums, hoboes, hikers, bikers, dog-walkers, and anybody else not in a car seeking the most expeditious route between central Ogden and the river parkway.
It used to be called Madison Avenue. Our city forefathers, in their wisdom, built this thoroughfare traversing the heart of Ogden all the way to the river. Today, Madison boasts three city parks, the Main Library, the Golden Hours Retirement Center, the Al-Anon Center, two churches, a public school, and a handful of renascent home lots between 30th and 20th Street, where it enters the cemetery. In 1921, the part passing through the cemetery was dedicated as Gold Star Drive. When I moved to Ogden in 1984, passage from the cemetery to the river was closed to vehicles, but open to pedestrians.
I am not sure of the exact dates, but as I recall, the decision to block access was co-incident several years ago with the rise in vandalism at the cemetery and the creation of an adjacent city composting facility. An earthen rampart was built at the end of Gold Star Drive. Trees were felled and left in place to discourage people passing through. Unknown citizens responded by hacking a trail though the debris up one side of the road cut.
The authorities failed to stop pedestrians, but they surely succeeded in making the way ugly and dangerous.
A second trail up the other side was developing last year so more trees were felled, successfully blocking that route, until late summer when the leaves and branches were dry enough to burn. I have no idea who set the fire, but biking home from work one day I passed a fire truck and crew at work in a cemetery. The burned area was nasty at first, but thanks to the restorative power of Mother Nature, the hill top is now a wide-open ramp for dare-devil dirt bikers to test their mettle.
Last month a tree started tipping over in slow motion toward the middle of the road, a consequence of heavy rain and a mountain of compost being bull-dozed onto the slope behind it. When it first started tilting I saw a pair of city workers standing next to their truck, admiring the view. It looked like at last a way had been found to completely stop traffic. The crown of the tree was enormous and passage beyond it was becoming impossible.
Getting an early start on Make-A-Difference Day, I packed my pruning saw when I biked to work the next day. It took about twenty minutes to saw through two limbs. A city worker in his city truck was watching as I dragged the branches down the hill and set their stems in place next to the busted rusted gate.
"That's malicious!" he shouted from the safety of his truck.
I'm still wondering which was the malicious part: clearing a pedestrian path or blocking the road so people can't use it as a dump.
I can't help recalling one memorable day a few years ago when this natural link between the river and the city was beautifully maintained, vibrant with life, birds singing and critters thriving. Trees were poking up through the asphalt as my wife and I walked home from the library in company with Utah's first Poet Laureate, David Lee, who had just given a public reading.
Dave was a little wired still from his performance and wanted a walk to cool down. We had suggested a stroll to the cemetery and down to the river. He was mighty impressed that so much natural beauty still existed in a city like Ogden. "You are so lucky to live in such a beautiful place," he said more than once. At the time, I didn't think so.
This was long before Mayor Godfrey's vision of turning Ogden into a high-adventure destination. This was in the Bad Old Days of the Ogden City Mall, and before completion of the river parkway. It was hard to see what was so special about walking unimpeded across town--because we took it for granted.
Now, whenever I pass by the No Dumping sign on my way up to Gold Star Drive, I can't help wondering what David Lee would say. He might be moved to write a poem about it, but it wouldn't be a paeon of praise.
Here's what I'm suggesting: Ogden suffers a disconnect between its wonderfully restored river and its sorrowfully dilapidated inner city. The beauty of my proposal is that improvement can be accomplished in a day. All that is required is clean-up of an already paved road and the erection of new signs at both ends: "Gold Star Nature Trail."
Bob Sawatzki is an award-winning writer and novelist who lives in Ogden.