Gabe Zimmerman turned out - if only in spirit, in memory and in deeply touching photographs - for the dedication of a trailhead named in his honor Wednesday.
Those at the ceremony longed for the real, living Gabe.
Zimmerman, a 30-year-old aide to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was killed along with five others last Jan. 8 in a mass shooting that wounded Giffords and 12 other people.
He was an avid hiker and mountain biker - and it was those passions that prompted designation of a scenic site southeast of Tucson as the Gabe Zimmerman Davidson Canyon Trailhead.
"It's such a lovely spot," said Emily Nottingham, Zimmerman's mother, who once hiked with him at the site. "From here, you see the mountains, the creek, the desert and the trail. It's so much of what we all love about Tucson - and what Gabe loved."
The Arizona Trail Association, Pima County officials, contributors, contractors, businesses, artists and others came together to make the trailhead a reality. More than 150 people attended the dedication.
"We wish we didn't have reason to have this event," said Dave Hicks, executive director of the Trail Association. "But we think this is an appropriate tribute to Gabe and the other victims."
The trailhead - which provides access to the 817-mile, cross-state Arizona Trail - includes a gateway with a large image of Zimmerman. He helped promote a 2009 measure that designated the route as a National Scenic Trail.
Two short side paths lead to a tribute area for victims of the shooting and a meditation area that includes a poem written by Zimmerman at the age of 10. Artist - and state representative - Steve Farley designed striking tiles for the meditation area.
"It's beautiful," said Judy McKay, Zimmerman's great-aunt, as she paused at the meditation area. "And the pictures really capture who Gabe was."
Ross Zimmerman, Gabe's father, said the trailhead site is unique for its diversity.
Zimmerman, a biologist, pointed out a rich array of plants and life zones visible from the site, and he noted that a trail, a nearby road and railroad tracks make it a place of connections.
"It's fascinating the way things come together here," he said.
U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords will participate in a vigil at the University of Arizona on Sunday evening. Story on Page A4.
Dozens of events Friday through Monday will mark the anniversary of the mass shooting. Inside in Caliente
More photos of the dedication are at azstarnet.com/gallery
giffords plans visit
for vigil on Jan. 8
U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords will take part in a Jan. 8 vigil at the University of Arizona on Sunday evening.
Giffords is expected to attend with her husband, retired Navy Capt. Mark Kelly. Her office did not say whether the congresswoman will speak at the event. Her staff said she will not do any media interviews while in Tucson.
The vigil on the UA Mall is one of dozens of events that will be held in Tucson and the surrounding area this weekend to observe the tragedy in which 19 people were shot last year at Giffords' Congress on Your Corner event at a shopping center in northwest Tucson. The mall event is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., and the public is invited to attend and show support for the families of victims and survivors. Those attending are asked not to bring candles. Glow sticks will be provided to all those in attendance.
The vigil at the UA Mall will be hosted by the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona and the University of Arizona Medical Center. The Tucson Symphony Orchestra will perform, as will Calexico, one of the congresswoman's favorite local bands.
Giffords, 41, has been undergoing intensive therapy in Houston after she was shot in the head last year. This weekend's trip to Tucson will be the fourth time the congresswoman returned to Tucson since the shooting.
- Stephanie Innes
• The trailhead, with views of distant deserts and summits of the Rincon Mountains, includes an image of Zimmerman and a plaque with these words:
"Gabe (1980-2011) loved Tucson - its desert, its people, and its unique spirit. A Tucson native, he hiked and mountain biked throughout the mountains and canyons that you see from here.
"Gabe was a dedicated public servant who died serving the community he loved. He brought people together, encouraged us to respect one another and appreciate the place we call home.
"Gabe lived a life of exuberance. You should too. Enjoy this special area."
• One walkway at the trailhead leads to displays with words and images honoring Zimmerman. Another leads to a panel showing the surrounding landscape and listing the names of the six people who were killed and the 13 who were wounded in the Jan. 8 shootings.
An inscription on the panel says: "This location reflects connections that enrich our lives. The creek, the road, the railroad, the bridges, the trail and the mountains - they all connect people, nature, history and community. This trailhead was rededicated as a community response to the connections that were broken when 19 people were killed or injured at a public event in Tucson hosted by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. We hope this special place helps you renew your own connections to the land and to each other."
TO GET THERE
The trailhead is north of I-10 on Marsh Station Road, about a quarter mile west of Cienega Creek. Take I-10 east from Tucson to exit 281, pick up Marsh Station Road and take it to the trailhead, which is on the right.
Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at email@example.com or at 573-4192.