Bob Cook’s new position as executive director of the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District will put him mostly in front of a computer screen, but the new leader of the service-oriented organization is no stranger to shoveling dirt and planting trees.
“I’ve always enjoyed playing in the outdoors, and at some point I remember thinking, ‘A trail is not asphalt or concrete. It deteriorates with use and somebody needs to take care of it,’” Cook said. “I love being out on the trails. I have an appreciation for that work, and what it takes and how hard it can be.”
The nonprofit’s new leader got involved with sustainable outdoor recreation while working leadership positions with the Youth Conservation Corps in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park.
“It was a lot of work, building bridges across swampy areas ... But it was so satisfying to be involved in that,” he said.
For the past 20 years, Cook was an outreach director for REI. That experience — and personality and work ethic — translates well to the FDRD’s mission to support the Forest Service, FDRD staff said.
“There were a lot of very qualified candidates, but the bottom line for what we were looking for is passion and Bob very clearly has that,” said FDRD program manager Sarah Slaton. “You have to have that to be in this job. You’re not making millions and you aren’t doing glamorous things all of the time. You have to love what you do and that’s what is going to make you successful.”
Cook said he’s committed to keeping the organization functioning smoothly, dedicating himself to everyday tasks ranging from risk management and vehicle policy to finding funding for projects. But he also said he wants to immerse himself in the pulse of the organization.
“There is so much work that has to be done on a computer, but I always want to be intimately in touch with the actual work our staff and volunteers and members are doing,” he said.
After only being involved with FDRD for a couple weeks, Cook said he’s already picking up on the special connection Summit County residents have with their trails.
“I’m learning it’s like a family atmosphere with the sense of ownership the community has with their trails,” he said.
The people who have made Summit County their home not only want to take care of their trails, but also want to share them with visitors, he said.
“There is an added element of attention or appreciation from community members. It’s almost a sense that if you had a show home — I’m not just taking care of my home, but I’m also on display.”
Cook said he’s impressed with the hard work and generosity of volunteers and donors — ranging from children to seniors — and is excited to be part of a one-of-a-kind organization. In talking to members of the Forest Service, he’s realized there aren’t a lot of organizations that support the agency like the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District.
“One excitement I’ve had is an awareness we may be a model for the rest of the nation,” he said.
Slaton said even though staff at FDRD was sad to see previous director Jessica Evett leave, they are excited to start a new chapter for the organization. In the four years she’s been at FDRD, the organization has been continually growing, Slaton said.
“Jess really helped us get the procedures and policies down so we can be a more sustainable organization,” she said. “I think having Bob and his fresh outlook on things will only help us continue that goal.”
Cook is coming into the organization during the busiest time of the year, so his experience will be a trial by fire of sorts.
“It’s terrifying in one aspect,” he said. “But the support from the staff and the board and even the welcome from members have helped a lot. It’s also great to see the power and energy that comes from being in the middle of the action.”
FDRD staff said so far this season they’ve completed more than 16 projects and employed more than 300 volunteers of all ages to plant trees, clean up the forest and improve trails. They are also helping to organize and recruit volunteers for the statewide “Pull for Colorado” event Saturday morning.