GREAT FALLS – The Great Falls community is mourning the loss of Doug Wicks, the founder of the River’s Edge Trail.
Becky Nelson, who helped found and work on the trail, said that Wicks died doing what he loved on Wednesday morning, which was cutting down branches at West Bank Park to make the trail better.
She said the 74-year-old leaves behind a huge legacy and called Wicks incredibly humble and generous.
The River’s Edge Trail began more than two decades ago. It now spans 55 miles including 15 bridges, six tunnels, picnic shelters, and more.
Wicks was the first recipient of the Paris Gibson Award in 2010, which is awarded annually to a person who embodies “the vision and excellence of city founder Paris Gibson.” Other criteria include: a long-standing resident of Great Falls; excelled in their area of expertise; contributed to the betterment of Great Falls, and been innovative and creative in their service to the community.
People who would like to honor Wicks are asked to place flowers at the pelican statue along the trail near the Federal Courthouse or make donations to the trail in his name.
You can also email any thoughts concerning Wicks to firstname.lastname@example.org for a book to be made about the lives he touched.
(JUNE 15, 2016) This year marks the 25th anniversary of the opening of the River’s Edge Trail in Great Falls.
Before the trail, there were just railroad tracks and an idea.
“Three miles of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad was going to be abandoned. So they got to thinking, wouldn’t that make a nice trail,” said Rivers Edge Trail innovator Doug Wicks.
In 1990 a development plan was created and the city began working with a volunteer group called Vision 2000 Recreational Activities Committee.
A year later the land planned for the first 5-1/2 mile stretch of trail was identified and portions were donated to the trail system.
“We called the railroad and they said, ‘Yeah we’d give you that bridge back, and actually we’ll come donate it for you.’ So this was 1990 and we were going, ‘Oh, we got our first bridge in,’ the cameras were there … and it was a momentum that never quit,” said Wicks.
It was that momentum that carried the project for the next year as cement was poured and paths were made.
And on the trail’s opening day, new life was brought into Great Falls.
“We were in the doldrums. We had lost the smelter, our biggest employer, we were kind of like ‘ Woe is us.’ And so this little trail, even though it was a teeny little trail, it was a huge victory, it was a huge success for the community,” said Wicks.
Since 1991 the trail has grown by more than 50 miles, and now has13 trailhead parking areas, picnic shelters, benches, and more.
Click here to visit the trail website to learn more, including this overview:
Over the last 25 years RTI (now RETF–River’s Edge Trail Foundation) has continued to work with the City of Great Falls, Montana State Parks, NorthWestern Energy and many other partners, agencies, groups and individuals to extend and improve the 57 + mile trail. Much of the trail has been constructed on abandoned railroad and road rights-of-way and structures. Miles of new trail connecting these segments have been constructed, as have many new tunnels, underpasses, bridges and trailheads. Volunteers have undertaken an on-going intensive cleanup of riverfront lands that had been littered with debris over the past decades, and have spent thousands of hours on weed control, tree planting, maintenance and enhancement projects.