Wheels and Spokes

By Beacon Staff

Nancy O’Kelly is good for my heart. And I’m not referring to her natural warmth, endearing charm, or ebullient personality. While those are self-evident, it’s her work on the Swan River Bike Path that has my attention right now. Having just had one of those chats with my family doc who said my heart needs less nourishment and more exercise, I could use a good bike path. And Nancy, president of the Bigfork chapter of Rotary International, seems just the person to deliver it.

It wouldn’t be accurate to say that a bike path was her idea. Mark Shultz gets the credit for that. And it was Ed Nolde, during his term as president, who led the local Rotary club to take on the challenge of completing the 10k bicycle route from the Swan River School to the end of the Wild Mile trail. But Nancy is currently on point for the project that, including a $300,000 C-TEP grant through Flathead County, is in the process of raising $400,000 to complete the missing parts of the path between MT Highway 82 and Williams Lane.

It was a cool day as Nancy drove me along the intended route of the path. Cooper, her wire-haired Jack Russell terrier, was clearly excited as Nancy showed me the intermittent paved trail along the east side of Swan River Road. Bouncing from seat to dash, you could tell Cooper would rather be chasing Nancy on her bicycle down the trail than confined in a metal box with me.

“This is the really dangerous part of the trek,” Nancy said as we drove south past Williams Lane. “You see how the road is winding and narrow? And the terrain drops off precipitously at the side of the road there.”

But this isn’t part of the planned development, I questioned. “Not yet,” she clarified. “It would be terrific if we could add this section to the path, but we need a lot of easements we don’t have. Right now, we’re concentrating on the northern five miles that we have the ability to complete.”

Is this the typical sort of thing that the Rotary club gets involved in, I ask. “It’s certainly within the scope of our charter,” she responds. “We’re a community-based organization with both a local and a world focus. At the international level, our goals are to promote literacy, to provide clean water, and to eradicate polio. We’ve given over $15,000 toward that latter goal. But locally, we provide food baskets to needy families, give scholarships to graduating high-school seniors, and we recently sent a contribution to the Staten Island Rotary chapter to help Hurricane Sandy victims.” Where does the money come from? “We do an annual barn dance in Bigfork with an associated auction. And last month we hosted a chili feed at the Garden Bar. We raised a thousand dollars there.”

“Bike paths bring communities together,” she remarks. “Not only do they provide a gathering point for the towns along the way, they provide a recreational connection between those communities.” I watch Cooper as he bounds around the cab of the pickup, envying his unfettered enthusiasm. And my mind wanders to a warm sunny day in some future spring when I can ride my bike down the trail, soaking in the incomparable environment that is Montana. A 25-year member of Rotary, Nancy goes on about the 34,000 individual clubs around the world, open to all and dedicated to the goals embodied in the slogans of “service above self” and “peace through service.”

But Cooper and me, our minds have drifted outside the confines of the cab. There’s a bike path to a great big world out there. The terrain is flat, the surface is smooth, and Cooper and me – we’re cruisin’.

Interested in Rotary?

The Bigfork Rotary Club is hosting an open house at Marina Cay Resort in Bigfork on Sunday, April 21 from 4-6 p.m. to celebrate the club’s 12 years of community service. For more information, contact Carol DiNolfo at 837-3774 or [email protected].

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