Tucson Weekly – TQ&A with Ross Zimmerman

by Mari Herreras

 Ross Zimmerman
Ross Zimmerman

Ross Zimmerman says the idea for Beyond Tucson: Commemorate, Celebrate, Commit came up when he was talking to Ron Barber about the looming anniversary of the Jan. 8 shootings. There will be many somber ceremonies to honor the victims—including Zimmerman’s son Gabe, who was killed, and Barber, who was severely wounded. However, Beyond Tucson, on Saturday, Jan. 7, is intended to connect people through exercise, fun and the enjoyment of the outdoors, and for people to celebrate the strength, resilience and beauty of Tucson. The Zimmerman family began working on the Tucson Trails Tribute Fund to honor the victims, and the first TTT event is Beyond Tucson. For more information, go to www.beyond-tucson.org, or search for it on Facebook.

How did the Tucson Trails Tribute start?

After the shootings, one of the people who came to town to help with things was Steve Golden, the cousin of my wife, Pam Golden, Gabe’s stepmother. He works for the National Park Service’s rivers and trails programs. Their stock in trade is working with communities to develop things in cooperation with the Park Service to get people outdoors and active. He applied those skills to pull together a large selection of entities in town to commemorate Gabe and others.

Who are the entities working together?

He was able to bring together the city and county, the Udall Foundation, the Sonoran Institute, Child and Family Resources and Tucson Medical Center. I was flabbergasted by the cross-section he got involved. Pam and Gabe’s mom, Emily, were all in the loop on that, and then Pam and I got involved in early meetings to focus on the main idea. Gabe and I had worked together on a map for his boss’ website on points of interest. Something we put together was the fact that Congressional District 8 was known as one of the, if not the, most biodiverse regions in the United States.

How does that relate to the Tucson Trails Tribute?

You can make the argument that Tucson has more incredible trail systems in the metropolitan area than any city in the United States. Our wonderful mountain ranges are nationally known among climbers. Outside magazine said it was the best for road-biking. But the idea is that we should make use of our wonderful public lands and get people out and mentally engaged to improve their physical and mental health. … We quickly came to the idea to focus on outreach programs that use these public lands to get people, especially young people, out in nature, and physical and mentally healthy.

What’s one way to get folks out more?

One idea is the development of a trail system. That is certainly one of our longer-range goals, but our focus right now is on the short term: getting people out. We hired a staff person, Michelle Crow. … She worked as Gabe’s counterpart in Raúl (Grijalva’s) office. They were good friends and colleagues.

What about the idea for Beyond Tucson?

Ron Barber assembled a meeting to point out that the anniversary of the shootings is approaching fast, and to figure out how we would commemorate the shootings. It occurred to me that on Saturday, Jan. 7, before the anniversary, would be a good day to stage something. Our goal would be to get as many people (as possible) out and about that day doing something active and worthwhile that commemorates our loss in some way that is positive. Sunday, Jan. 8, is going to be more somber and about loss. The concept for Beyond Tucson quickly evolved into something large-scale. … We have more than 100 community partners now. Tucson Trails Tribute sponsored an event at Reid Park, and other groups have organized dozens of other things across the region.

Are you surprised that there’s a strong interest in helping with Beyond Tucson?

I’d say I’ve been pleased and encouraged. I’ve known for months that there are a lot of good people in Tucson who wanted to help. At Gabe’s private funeral service, we had 650 people, and we had to work to keep it at that. Keep in mind that thousands of people were touched by this.

If you want to be involved, is the Beyond website the best place to go?

Yes. If you go to the website, you’ll already see an array of events. If you see something you want to go to, please register so the organizer has an idea of how many people are going to turn up. Also, if there are people who want to stage something that we have not spoken to yet, there is a section on the website they can access.