Almost exactly two years ago Pueblo native Rick Cables reached a milestone in his life.
After 35 years with the U.S. Forest Service, including 10 years serving as regional manager for the Rocky Mountain region, Cables was up in July 2011 for retirement. Coincidentally, Cables also was also getting ready to celebrate his 35th wedding anniversary with his wife, Cindy.
The Boulder couple should have been planning for the next, and slightly slower paced, chapter of their lives, which would have been a welcome change considering the family moved 22 times during the first 25 years of Cables’ career. But the lifetime forester wasn’t yet ready to hang up his spurs.
“Governor (John) Hickenlooper approached me about an idea he had for a merger between Colorado State Parks and the Division of Wildlife,” Cables said. “I wasn’t ready to retire yet, but 10 years is a long tenure for a regional manager, so I wanted to hand over the reigns, but I was also ready for a new challenge.”
Rather than kick up his feet, Cables accepted Hickenlooper’s offer to serve as the first director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and during the last two years he guided one of the largest mergers in state history. Today, Colorado Parks and Wildlife employs more than 900 people and manages close to $4 billion in economic activity each year.
Few would contend bringing together Colorado’s two largest recreational management bodies would be a dauntless undertaking. It’s also the type of challenge most would consider as a legacy project — the defining accomplishment that comes at the sunset of a professional career.
“My original intent, and what I told the staff, was I wanted to be in this role for the next three to five years,” Cables said. “I thought this was going to be my last rodeo.”
But the agency accomplished more than it expected in two short years.
Under Cables’ direction, Colorado Parks and Wildlife accomplished several goals, including the adoption of a unified logo to the creation a more collaborative, approachable and transparent culture.
Much of the success Parks and Wildlife has enjoyed in its infancy is due to Cables’ leadership philosophy.
“I wanted to soften the agency’s image, especially in terms of law enforcement,” Cables said. “I wanted our officers to be approachable, but I also believe that if you give your people more authority and discretion at the ground level they’ll make great decisions on behalf of our customers.”
As quickly as it began, so too has Cables’ leadership at Parks and Wildlife come to an end. And, as with his last transition from a federal to a state agency, Cables is postponing retirement to write the next chapter in his already sterling career.
Last week Vail Resorts announced it named Cables its new vice president of natural resources and conservation.
“I’ve spent 37 years as a public servant and I never would have thought I’d make that transition to the private sector,” Cables said. “It just seems like an opportune moment to see what I can contribute and see what I can learn.”
Cables shouldn’t require a lot of time to get his feet wet in his new position. As a U.S. Forest Service employee, Cables focused much of his career on recreation and encouraging people to enjoy the outdoors, which is right in line with Vail Resorts’ mission.
“The thing I’m going to miss most (at Colorado Parks and Wildlife) is the people,” Cables said. “I feel like they’re my family and I told them I am going to be that eccentric uncle who keeps coming back, but I’m also looking forward to the challenge, listening and learning where I can add value.
“I’m just a forester with a four-leaf clover in my pocket. I’ve had a charmed life for some reason.”
Bringing together Colorado’s two largest recreational management bodies — Colorado State Parks and the Division of Wildlife — was no small undertaking. “I thought this was going to be my last rodeo.”
— Rick Cables