New bridge access for ALS

A bridge of kindness

New bridge at Bangert Island Park gives access to trails to former competitive mountain bike racer with ALS

By Brett Auten

Two years ago David Frei was a world-class endurance athlete. He especially excelled in adventure racing, either winning or finishing with his team in the top three in the world on three different occasions. 

Frei, 53, has lived throughout the region for his entire life, including a stop in Lake St. Louis.  He has always loved challenges and the outdoors and anything to do with running, mountain biking, and paddling. Frei eventually became a member of the Adventure Racing co-ed team for Team Alpine Shop. Adventure racing (also called expedition racing) is a multi-disciplinary team sport involving navigation over an unmarked wilderness course with races extending anywhere from two hours, up to two weeks in length.

“Anything to do with dirt, water and navigation,” Frei said. “I was always more interested than just fitness.” 

Recently diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), a disorder that affects the function of nerves and muscles, Frei was determined to continue to ride the trails. If not on the national competitive circuit, there was ample opportunity to ride trails in the region he is was familiar.

As the disease progressed, he went from riding a standard mountain bike, to using a pedal-assisted bicycle, and now can ride only a trike-style mountain bike on the trails.  Frei soon found out that the trike-style bike was too wide to cross bridges, including one at Bangert Island Park, located at 1704 S River Rd., in St. Charles, which was one of the few park trails Frei could still ride.

“I was the most fit person you knew two years ago,” Frie said. “Being handicapped, these problems are new to me. The little obstacles can do you in.” 

Frei made a post about the predicament on his blog, davidfreiblog.com. After reading about Frei’s concerns on his blog, members of Gateway Off-Road Cyclists (GORC), approached the St. Charles County Parks Department about widening the bridge. The park staff quickly came together to build a new bridge; steel beams set, bridge decking assembled, and after more than 1,300 joints were welded together, a new bridge was constructed and installed in the park. The new bridge is four-feet wide and 20-feet in length, twice as wide as the old bridge, and crosses over a slough on River Link Trail near the entrance to the park.

The night Frei discovered the bridge, it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.

From his blog, he wrote: “The timing could not have been better!  I had gotten a bit depressed lately as my world was starting to get rather small … I feel very loved in this world.  What a beautiful ride and what a difference it makes to have a part of the world opened back up to you.”

Friends and family celebrated the new bridge with a Bridge over Banger ride and beer party. 

“It was a little crusade that I had nothing do with,” Frei said. 

St. Charles County Parks Director Ryan Graham said there had been an excellent relationship with the cycling community over the years. 

“We are so glad it was brought to our attention that widening the bridge at the park would make it more accessible for all park visitors,” Graham said. “Our goal is to ensure guests in all our parks have an enjoyable experience.” 

Nearly four miles of natural-surface trail is available for hikers and bicyclists to enjoy at Bangert Island is a 160-acre park located on an island off the historic Katy Trail in St. Charles. The terrain in the park is relatively flat with soft soil conditions. The wooded-lined paths offer scenic views of the adjacent Missouri River and are home to countless wildlife species and native flora.

CUTLINE: Submitted photos The St. Charles County Parks Department staff came together to build a new bridge to improve accessibility to at Bangert Island Park. The new bridge is four-feet wide and 20-feet in length, twice as wide as the old bridge, and crosses over a slough on River Link Trail near the entrance to the park.