‘You get to give something back to the land’
VAIL – Mary Morgan retired from her job as a systems engineer and moved to a home near Steamboat Lake in 1990. It was an area she had fallen in love with when she lived on the Front Range.In keeping with her enthusiasm for the outdoors, she took a part-time job with the U.S. Forest Service as a surveyor – a departure from her eight years as an engineer for Lockheed Martin and another eight years as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Marines.”After spending many years at a desk, it was great,” she said. “I sort of started another career. It was never really my intention at all.”That part-time job sent Morgan down a path with the Forest Service to one of its most high-profile positions. Last month, she began work as recreation and engineering staff officer for the White River National Forest, the U.S.’s busiest national forest for recreation. She manages the use of the forest’s ski areas – including Vail and Beaver Creek – campgrounds, roads and trails.Her second career is a rewarding one, she said.
“It does give you an opportunity to give back,” she said. “You get to give something back to the land, to the people.”The White River National Forest sees 9.6 million recreational visits a year. The forest contains prominent ski areas in Eagle, Pitkin and Summit counties. Vail and Beaver Creek mountains operate under permit on Forest Service land.Recreational use of the forest increased more than 100 percent from 1992 to 2002.Morgan said the increase is a result of both the region’s population growth as well as the increasing popularity of skiing and other activities.The increased use doesn’t have to require more venues for recreation, Morgan said.”Not necessarily more,” Morgan said. “Better managed for a quality experience.”
She wants to capitalize on niches for each area. One area could focus more on “developed” recreation, such as ski areas, while another could focus on “dispersed” recreation, like hiking.The diversity of the White River forest, which extends from the peaks of the Tenmile Range to the high desert of Rifle, allows for those niches, Morgan said. Morgan came to White River National Forest from Lake Tahoe, where she was operations staff officer for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit in California.At Tahoe, one of the biggest issues was keeping Lake Tahoe blue. She learned to foster collaboration with different groups, such as environmentalists, business owners and legislators, she said.”Integrating people’s views allow you to come to the best solution,” she said.She’s settling in to her office in Glenwood Springs, and is traveling around the area meeting staff members. Morgan, 52, replaces Cathy Kahlow, who left the forest last year to take a position with the Forest Service in Utah.
And Morgan does all the stuff that makes the White River National Forest a recreation haven – she skis, kayaks, road bikes and water skis.”I like to do it all,” she said. “There just isn’t enough time.”Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado