Dillon Ranger District welcomes new faces to White River National Forest
Over the course of the last six months, the White River National Forest’s Dillon Ranger District has added two key personnel who will help to shape the decisions and topography of the region for years to come.
Longtime White River staffer Sam Massman, a trail crew and wilderness leader on the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District in Minturn after several years as a seasonal worker, took over as Dillon’s mountain sports administrator in May. At its most basic level, the job entails working closely with the county’s four ski resorts to ensure proper permitting and assisting with potential National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) procedures as they come up.
Massman grew up in Fort Collins before heading to the University of Colorado-Boulder for college. He followed that up with graduate studies focused on natural resource management back home at Colorado State University. It was a chance meeting with a fire engine captain that landed him his first summer Forest Service job, and 17 years later he’s not looked back.
“It’s a good fit for where I’m at in my life,” said Massman, “and I’m interested in challenging and fast-paced, busy jobs. This one’s got that. I enjoy working with people and this job has got a huge amount of both internal and external collaboration and relationship responsibilities.”
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While working out of Minturn, he was actually living in Frisco with his wife and daughter the last six years making the daily drive over Vail Pass. When the opportunity presented itself on the Dillon District — especially given the emphasis on the ski industry — Massman didn’t have to think twice about applying.
“I love skiing, I love the outdoors, I love the winter,” he said. “And I have a background in mountain operations at ski areas after time as a snowmaking foreman at Beaver Creek. In my personal time I’ve spent a bunch of time skiing on my own at resorts and out of resorts.”
In addition to his responsibilities with the two Vail Resorts-owned properties — Keystone Resort and Breckenridge Ski Resort — and Copper Mountain Resort and Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, Massman is also tasked with management of the area’s two Nordic centers in Breck and Frisco, the winter huts throughout Summit and the Vail Pass Recreation Area. The day-to-day duties are still presenting themselves in his first year locally, and he said he’s appreciating the on-the-job-training approach.
“I need to get out and see how things work in these areas from an operational standpoint,” said Massman, “then dig into permit and operating plans as we go, making sure we’re all fully on board with doing what we’re supposed to.”
Unlike Massman, Dillon’s new deputy district ranger, Adam Bianchi, is just learning the ropes of Colorado. The second-in-command to district ranger Bill Jackson had worked in three national forests before arriving to the White River. He sees his diversified experience as an asset.
Bianchi hails from Iowa and attended Iowa State University in Ames to study forestry. That’s led to a 10-year career with the Forest Service as a forester, harvest inspector and timber sale administrator, all of it beginning as a seasonal worker summering at South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest in 2006 before going full time in 2008.
After a year at Black Hills, Bianchi moved along to the Lassen forest in northern California for four years before three more at the Ottawa National Forest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. There he continued his work with commercial lumber as well as a silviculturist, focused on cultivation of the area forest.
Although he considered both the pubic and private sectors after completing school, ultimately it was the mission of the Forest Service, with its multiple uses and efforts, that Bianchi says spoke to him. Since arriving to Summit County in late June, he has maintained that approach.
“It lined up with some of my values, and I just could really get behind those of the Forest Service,” he said. “I’ve never felt forced to abide by the almighty dollar and log or cut something I didn’t want. More and more I’ve realized it was a good choice for me, and it’s been a great opportunity to see other parts of the country and live in different areas. It’s really broadened who I am as a forester.”
Jackson’s background is really in recreation and facilities, so Bianchi feels his skillset balances the district out well, and the two have split up some of the divisions. The newcomer now handles some of the decision making related to natural resource management, wildlife and the area’s fisheries.
As a forester, Bianchi acknowledged it can be easy to get caught up in the on-the-ground science and analysis, not realizing decisions are made for multiple reasons based on social, economic and political considerations. So the chance to take a step back and view projects from an oversight position has granted more interaction with the public and better understanding of the greater, long-term perspective to the Forest Service’s purpose. It’s been a welcome change, he said, and rewarding experience in pursuit of his eventual goal of becoming a full district ranger.
“Just the involvement of the community has been great,” said Bianchi. “It doesn’t happen at every national forest where people want to be involved and understand. A lot of places just don’t have that interest. It’s cool to know and see that people care about their public lands and how we’re managing it and keeping things in line.”
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