Forty years ago this fall, I started my career in public service. Jimmy Carter was president, “Apocalypse Now” and “Alien” were in the movie theaters. The Village People had a hit with Y.M.C.A. No one had a computer at home, no one I knew had a mobile phone. Gas averaged 0.86/gallon. In some ways it seems so long ago, in others, it seems like just the other day. Now I’ll be retiring next week, leaving what has been a very rewarding career in local government.
With my new degree in Landscape Horticulture from CSU, I started on my professional path as the City Arborist for the City of Cheyenne. After two years in Cheyenne, I came to Larimer County as the County Forester. This was my first opportunity to serve the Town of Estes Park and the Estes Valley, spending time in the Valley doing Mountain Pine Beetle mitigation and noxious weed control. I then moved on to serve as the County Director of Natural Resources, and after a few challenging years of working full time, being a new father and attending grad school part time, I earned an MBA from CSU. The Board of County Commissioners, and especially Commissioner Jim Disney, made a leap of faith and took a chance with this MBA horticulturist as the County Manager for Larimer County, a position I held for 18 years. Then in 2012, the position of Estes Park Town Administrator opened up. My wife and I have always loved Estes Park, and the opportunity to apply for this job and live in this wonderful valley was a dream come true. In May 2012 I started my run as your Town Administrator.
It was a rough first year and a half. I was only here about a month when we were hit with the Woodland Heights Fire, followed that fall by the Fern Lake Fire and then nine months later, the 2013 Flood. Thanks to the resiliency of the community and professionalism of the Town staff, we weathered through all three disasters. I admit, I did wonder what I got myself into (at the 2013 Town holiday party, the staffed dubbed me “Disaster Lancaster”)! There have been other challenges in my seven-year tenure. Estes Park has a reputation as a difficult place to work, and as the County Manager, I knew full well what I was getting into, and I do not regret the move at all.
I guess it’s normal when retiring to look back at what you have and haven’t accomplished. Paul Harvey described personal success as “to leave the woodpile a little higher than I found it.”
Some of the accomplishments are more visible than others. As the Natural Resource Director, I was told it couldn’t be done, but we started the first Household Hazardous Waste program between the Mississippi and the West Coast, and one of the first in the nation. We built the recycling recovery facility, and both of these continue to date. I supervised the closure of the old Estes Park Landfill and replaced it with the Transfer Station we use today. It seems funny now, but I bought the second desktop computer at the County. It took months of justification and numerous meetings to get the funding and approvals to buy a computer, especially when we had a “perfectly fine Mainframe computer” filling half the Courthouse basement! Some of the things I’m most proud of were behind the scenes, including bringing the concepts and processes of Policy Governance and Systematic Development of Informed Consent to both Larimer County and the Town. These, combined with development of clear roles and policies have helped elected officials with their jobs and helped them be better stewards on behalf of the citizens. My hope is that these best practices are now institutionalized and will continue serving both Larimer County and Estes Park, long after my role is forgotten.
We’ve gotten a lot accomplished in the last seven years here at the Town. Construction of the Events Center, Parking Structure and updates to Bond Park. Passage of the 1A initiative has funded improvements of Town roads, assisted with the construction of the Community Center, improved emergency preparedness and construction of community trails. We’ve been very successful leveraging state and federal grants to help stretch our local dollars. We celebrated our Centennial in 2017. Not every project is large and expensive. I’ll always be proud of the Pikas in the Park every time I see a family searching for the little bronze pikas, and watching the kids’ joy when they find that hidden little sculpture. There are projects that I will now watch come to fruition from the sidelines. The completion of the Fall River Trail will be a fantastic addition to our community, and I believe, in the future, the construction of a municipal broadband system and high speed internet will be seen as one of the most important endeavors the Town has ever engaged in, right up there with electrical service and domestic water. The Town has some major challenges ahead with sorely needed flood mitigation projects, transportation and parking challenges, impacts of growth both locally and on the Front Range, and regional impacts of climate change.
Being the Town Administrator is like the conductor of an orchestra. You’re not an expert in playing any of the instruments, but you have to have enough knowledge to know what each brings to the music. You have to find the best musicians you can, and then help them thrive and succeed, while working together. You also have to try your best to please the Board of Directors and all the varied tastes and opinions of the orchestra patrons, some of which are diametrically opposed to each other.
What I am most proud of from my tenure here at the Town is the team we have put together. I have had the pleasure of hiring highly professional and dedicated individuals to serve the Town of Estes Park, and to work with some amazing people who predated my arrival. We’ve got the right people, in the right seats on the bus. These folks have created a positive culture and work attitude that will help the Town move forward with the challenges ahead. I’m excited to watch Travis Machalek take the reins and lead the organization and the community forward following the strategic direction set by the elected officials.
I have been blessed to have opportunities come my way to work in this special community, both as your County Manager and especially as your Town Administrator and hopefully the wood pile is a “little higher” as I move on to whatever is next in my life. Thank you and I’ll see you on the trails!