Breckenridge Water Manager Gary Roberts retires after 4 decades with the town
Gary Roberts retirement bash
What: An open retirement party for Breckenridge Water Manager Gary Roberts, a longtime local who’s retiring after 39 years with the town.
When: Friday, May 1 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Where: Yellow Arrow Coffee, 103 S. Harris Street in Breckenridge (beneath the Breckenridge Grand Vacations Community Center)
The celebration is open to anyone who has known Roberts during his time in Summit County. To RSVP, email Lisa Webster at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’ve lived in Breckenridge long enough, chances are Gary Roberts has traipsed through your home in muck-covered overalls after digging a hole in your backyard.
And chances are you wanted to invite him back for a drink the next day.
For the past 40 years, Roberts has overseen the Town of Breckenridge’s sprawling and incredibly intricate water system. He knows just about every cubic inch of Goose Pasture Tarn Reservoir, found upstream from the water plant bearing his name. He knows municipal water pipes must be buried 9 feet below the ground to avoid freezing in the heart of a Rocky Mountain winter. He knows the town’s water system is in need of a second plant to meet demand during peak seasons, when the visiting population balloons to 30,000 people. He knows how to read a meter, repair a meter and explain the intricacies of both in the process.
“It’s been a pleasure and an honor to work with the community the way I have,” said Roberts, who’s been the town’s water manager since the position was created in 2000 and now oversees eight employees. “I’ve made a lot of friends by digging a hole in their yard or walking through their home with dirty, muddy feet.”
And it’s now time to hang up the boots. Roberts officially retires today and the town is throwing a public bash to honor his four decades of service. The celebration runs from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Yellow Arrow Coffee, found in the basement of his former office building at the old town hall on Harris Street.
It’s a fitting venue for Roberts’ last hurrah as a town employee. The maroon-brick building has been home to Colorado Mountain College, the local library and now the Breckenridge Grand Vacations Community Center, all in the 41 years since he moved to Breck from his Front Range hometown of Wheatridge.
The water system has changed wildly since then, just like the town it serves, but Roberts is ready to pass the torch, or, perhaps more accurately, the keys to the master water faucet.
“My heart is not heavy,” Roberts said over coffee and gluten-free toast at another downtown favorite, Amazing Grace, just a day before his official retirement. “I’m having fun with this ‘Super Bowl week,’ I guess. I said to myself, ‘This is the right time to go — let bygones be bygones.’ And I’ve really gained a lot of humor since working here. I mean, I made a mistake two weeks ago. It happens.”
GOOSE TARN AND CAST-IRON PLUMBING
When Roberts arrived in 1974, Breckenridge’s first permanent reservoir, the 771-acre Goose Pasture Tarn, had only existed for two years. The town of about 500 permanent residents was growing, slowly but surely, and the water system needed a modern engineer with modern certifications to oversee the first modern machinery. He’d spent time in the Breckenridge area as a youngster and was immediately drawn to the job.
“Every year mom and dad would take us kids to Boreas in the fall,” Roberts remembers. “We’d have picnics up there. My brother and I would usually get bored, so we’d run down the gravel road into town for an ice cream cone.”
It’s one of literally a thousand (or more) stories Roberts has tucked away over the years. There was the day Roberts interviewed for the job with Jim Beck, a former town councilman. The interview wasn’t until later in the day and Roberts wanted to kill time while waiting. He asked the town clerk if there was a library in town and she just grinned. Her reply: “Yeah, there is, but there are a bunch of bars, too.”
Then there was the day Roberts ran a street sweeper down Main Street in the mid-’70s — “They wanted those half-dozen paved streets swept,” he laughs — and kicked dust onto the crowded patio at Whale’s Tale. The patrons slung bottles and curses, only to invite him for a drink when he turned off the sweeper and wheeled back around.
Then there was the time in the late ’70s, shortly after current mayor John Warner moved to town, when Roberts and another employee were repairing a water main near Warner’s dentist office. The workers had to cut power on the block — right as Warner was in the middle of a root canal.
“I’ve been naturally blessed with this knack to remember things,” Roberts says. “I remember details on the system, the construction, all of it. It’s almost like I was born to do this job — that’s kind of why I stuck with it. That’s why I’m still here, at least for another few days.”
Not only does Roberts have a mind for the logistics of running a water system — he also has an interest in the town it serves. In his office are drawings of the first rudimentary system, built around Sawmill Reservoir near the base of Peak 9 in the 1880s. In the early 1900s, an engineer made a detailed map with hydrants and reservoir tanks, all connected by a system of cast-iron pipes.
“This town had a good, solid water system way back to the 1880s,” Roberts says. “If a town had a railroad and a foundry, like the Gold Pan shops here, they could make cast-iron pipe for a water system. If it didn’t, you’d see the wooden pipes.”
Now, as Roberts gets ready to fully enjoy retirement at 65 years old, he believes the town is in for another change. It won’t quite be on par with converting from cast-iron piping to a system capable of serving customers from Battle Mountain High School to the Blue River town limit, but the town’s primary facility, the Gary Roberts Water Treatment Plant, can’t sustain growth far into the future.
“We’re at the end of an era and beginning of a new era,” Roberts said. “We have a second plant coming down the river to help shore up some of those peak times, and that gives us relief to rehabilitate the Tarn water plant.”
Yet all of that comes second to free time.
“Hike, fish, ski, bluegrass festivals, whatever — I like it all,” Roberts says. “How about I read a couple chapters in a book from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., not spend that time in a meeting? I just need to get all the kinks out. I think it’s typical for anyone who retires.”
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