Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Aurelia Pollard

Ron Stewart retiring from Boulder County after long tenure


Courtesy photo Ron Stewart is retiring as director of Boulder County Parks and Open Space in September, after 17 years.

Boulder County Parks and Open Space will have to say goodbye to a respected and admired employee come September.

Ron Stewart, who is currently the director of Boulder County Parks and Open Space, has decided to retire in September after 17 years with the county. Stewart was born and raised in Longmont went to Longmont High School, and then to the University of Colorado-Boulder.

As a political science major in college, Stewart became passionate about politics and went on to serve two terms in the Colorado State Senate from 1977-1985 where he was involved in the Democratic party, then served as a Boulder County Commissioner from 1985-2005.

Stewart became director of parks and open space in 1999, while he was still a county commissioner, after the previous director, Carolyn Holmberg, died unexpectedly. “I just wanted to continue the work that she had done,” he said.

He explained that open space has always been important to him and something he’s been involved with for over three decades.

“For most of my adult life, open space and growth management have been an area of focus for me,” Stewart said. “I actually served on the county’s parks and open space advisory committee in the [1970s] when the open space program really didn’t exist… It’s just always been a major issue for me.”

Boulder County is a special place for many reasons, but most people would agree that all its open land is a big draw. Stewart could not imagine the county being fully developed and wanted to help preserve as much open space as possible.

“I think so much for this area, our quality of life today and in the future, is benefited so much by having the big vast open spaces around our communities,” Stewart explained. “It’s a place for wildlife, for people to recreate and for farming to continue. To me, from the start, the idea that growth would consume the whole of the county was just not a tenable position.”

While he has been director, Stewart has worked on numerous projects from expanding open space and creating trails to expanding programs for kids and volunteers, among many others.

“One of the things that I feel best about is the idea of really expanding our commitment to having volunteers involved in the work that we do,” Stewart said. “We’ve more than doubled the number of volunteers that we have—we’ve probably tripled from the time I first got here. I think it’s such a great thing to have people in the community out helping, to be stewards of the land.”

Stewart said volunteers help build trails, lead public programs and “collect native seed in the fall so that when we’re doing restoration projects we have native seed to use.” Through the department’s Volunteer Naturalists Program, people receive “training on different aspects on wildlife, habitat and geology, and they can give programs for others in the community.”

Besides increasing the number of volunteers the department has, Stewart is proud of all the land the county has been able to preserve as open space, some of which is in and around Niwot.

“We’ve added 40,000 or so acres to the open space portfolio, and in 17 years we’ve built 50 miles of trails,” he said. “For the Niwot area, during that time, we were able to finalize the acquisitions around Niwot. Niwot will be for the future pretty much what it is today.”

Although Stewart wouldn’t necessarily call himself an “outdoorsman,” he said the open space to him is just as enjoyable to look at as it is to hike on.

“I’m a person who appreciates [the outdoors],” Stewart said. I’m a hiker and I enjoy going walking. But to me open space was more than just the idea that I would go use it. It’s just the idea that it’s there. That when you drive down a road you see on both sides of the road open land, and little calves in the springtime, and the beautiful agriculture fields.”

Stewart has been involved in the push to have more local, organic food grown on farms on Boulder County land. Through the county’s Crop Land Policy, its goal is to have organic food grown on 20 percent of its land—which it is close to meeting.

“Eight or 10 years ago, there would have been nothing in terms of organic production on our land,” Stewart said. “But we adopted the Crop Land Policy five years ago that set a goal to have 20 percent of our land be utilized for organic farming by 2020. We’re right on track to doing that; about 15 or 16 percent of our land right now is organic.”

Stewart recognized that the work he’s been able to accomplish wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the support from the people in his department and the residents of Boulder County. It wasn’t easy to pass the taxes needed to preserve the open space there is today, and Stewart credits that to the public.

“Very little of this would have been possible without the support the people in Boulder County have given to the open space program,” Stewart explained. “We have been able to acquire the land that we have because the public has voted to approve four separate sales taxes that are collected, and that’s where the money comes from to buy the land.”

He doesn’t take the successes he’s had for granted, but understands it was because the public shifted its views to align with Boulder County’s on open space issues. Stewart believes that if people had not approved the taxes, there might be much more development throughout the county.

“A person in my position has to be very appreciative and grateful to the public in Boulder County for sharing this vision of keeping land free from development…,” Stewart said. “I think there would have been a whole lot more development in the area [if people hadn’t approved the taxes].”

Stewart not only recognized the public of Boulder County, but the people of Niwot, as those who helped further the open space program.

“There were people from Niwot, through all of those efforts to do the open space program,” he said. Selene Hall was the treasurer of our campaign committee for several of the campaigns that ended up passing the sales tax. Jim Martinsen, Biff Warren… there were folks in Niwot who were big supporters of open space throughout.”

When asked why he decided to retire now, Stewart said it was time. He hopes to travel more with his wife and just knew it was the right time for him to make a change. Although he’ll miss the people he’s worked with and projects he’s accomplished, Stewart mainly hopes the department will continue in the direction he’s led it on.

“I hope [the department] continues recognizing that not all the land that should be open space has yet been preserved, there’s still land to preserve,” Stewart said. “I hope that there’s always a priority and an emphasis on preserving important environmental features of the land. And I hope the department continues to place an emphasis on keeping the people involved in the land, whether it’s recreating on the land or volunteering to help maintain the land.”


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