Steamboat Springs A decade ago, some say, the Routt County Board of Commissioners made an excellent mistake.
They refused to appoint construction contractor Ben Beall to the county's Planning Commission, although he had applied twice.
"I said if they wouldn't appoint me to planning, I'd have to run for county commissioner," Beall said.
Beall went on to defeat an incumbent commissioner, and the rest, as they say, is history.
An effort to develop a new ski area at Lake Catamount prompted the bearded Vietnam veteran to run. He had opposed it as a citizen, and as a commissioner he helped defeat it.
"It was a trying time with Lake Catamount," said Doug Monger, the man elected to replace Beall. "There was a feeling we were abandoning the environment and rural lifestyle for the benefit of money.
"He (Beall) brought us back into equilibrium," Monger said.
The idea of a new ski area may have died, but Beall's vision for keeping the Yampa Valley close to its ranching and agricultural roots survived and flourished.
"He brought environmental consciousness to county government," said Paul Draper, head of the county's Road and Bridge Department.
"Prior to this board (of commissioners), we didn't really have a large environmental consciousness on how we were impacting things."
As Beall served his last day in public office on Tuesday, colleagues described him as a passionate visionary who led the way in preserving Routt County's Western heritage.
Over the years, local attorney Bob Weiss represented Catamount and other interests before Beall and the board of commissioners.
"While I didn't always agree with his point of view, I still respected his sincerity," Weiss said. "I think he's conscientious, fair (and) takes the county's business and his position very seriously."
Beall's passion for land use issues helped implement important land-saving policies.
Under Beall's tenure, the county passed the Purchase of Development Rights plan, which offers grant money to landowners in exchange for not developing huge parcels of their land. PDR has helped preserve about 2,160 acres of open space since 1997.
The Legacy Project was also implemented to preserve thousands of acres of land along the Elk and Yampa rivers in Routt and Moffat counties.
Agricultural organizations such as the Community Agricultural Alliance and Yampa Valley Beef Producers grew out of Beall's vision for Routt County, along with the Right to Farm law. The law protects local ranchers and farmers from newcomers who might try to change the way those operations are run.
Beall was also the prime mover behind the LPS (land preservation subdivisions) zoning process. An LPS allows developers to build a higher number of homes if they cluster the homes together and then set aside a large remaining parcel of land as open space. The regulation was developed as a way to protect agricultural land from development.
Ironically, Beall, who promoted the idea of LPS, eventually voted against it on principle. He believed the LPS policy didn't do enough to protect agricultural land.
"Once he believes a certain thing is right or wrong, he would be willing to stand out and take the brunt of the criticism," said County Attorney John Merrill, who has worked with Beall over the years.
"He is so passionate about the issues he loves, he can drive you crazy," said Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak, who was elected the same year as Beall.
Beall said it all stems from wanting to see things happen.
"If you love your community, you get involved in community service," Beall said.
Beall and Stahoviak only made $33,000 a year but were known to work a 70-hour week, which included committee meetings at the regional and state levels.
Chuck Donley, a former Routt County planner, has worked with county commissioners all over the state.
"I haven't seen any commissioners that have committed time to the job that those three do," Donley said of the current Routt County board, which also includes Dan Ellison.
"When you add up all those hours, you can say he was paid just a couple of dollars an hour for his time."
Wounded in Vietnam, the former Navy SEAL said his disability benefits allowed him to work around the low pay.
"I received disability," Beall said. "I guess my country treated me so well I wanted to give something back, and you do that through public service."
As for his "accomplishments," Beall said it was a team effort between commissioners, county staff and community involvement.
But County Planning Director Caryn Fox said Beall had the leadership to see things through.
"He's always kept a big vision for the entire county," Fox said.
From her standpoint, Fox said "good planning" was Beall's biggest contribution.
"He wanted to ensure that growth would be done properly and with good planning," Fox said.
Thus was born a number of community plans that outlined where, when and how growth should occur and be managed: the Steamboat Area Community Plan, the Stagecoach Plan; Sarvis Creek Plan; and the Oak Creek, Yampa and Hayden plans, among others.
"They all passed plans," Beall said proudly. "In Routt County, everyone is educated about growth and the impacts of growth."
Beall's passion for open space continues with his work on the preservation of Emerald Mountain, which serves as the western backdrop for the city of Steamboat Springs.
Admirers say if not for Beall's work, the State Land Board would have already sold the land to developers. He and others are working on putting much of the 6,500 acres in a conservation easement.
While Beall's work on land use issues was most prominent in the public's eye, his colleagues at the county and city level cite Beall's work on transportation as the most important work he's done.
Stahoviak and Ellison credit Beall with getting $13 million in funding for improvements to Colorado 131 from Steamboat Springs to Oak Creek.
Steamboat Springs' assistant city manager agreed.
"He's been a visionary and leader in transportation," said Wendy Dubord. "He chaired the regional transportation planning group and did an outstanding job."
Beall supported the city's multi-modal transportation center west of town that services local and regional bus routes. He's also credited with bringing in grant money for the project.
What many people don't know is that Beall worked just as hard on human issues as he did on land use issues.
"He literally saved a lot of kids' lives," said Bob White, the county's Human Services director.
White said Beall worked on several advisory boards, including one that developed a program that worked with juvenile delinquents and their families to keep them from getting deeper into the juvenile system.
As far as disappointments, Beall said he regrets leaving office without having changed the minimum lot size of 35 acres in the agricultural/forestry zone districts.
He fears "rural sprawl" and insists 160 acres would be more agriculturally productive.
"I just wasn't able to get one more vote to my side," Beall said. "Thirty-five acres isn't a viable parcel for agriculture."
Beall also leaves unsolved the issue of affordable housing.
"We weren't able to establish a program of owner affordable housing, and that's a real problem someone is going to have to address," Beall said.
Beall also wished more regulations were enacted to regulate growth.
However, Beall believes he is leaving the county in the best financial and productive shape it has ever been in.
"This board (of commissioners) made it more than a full-time job, and because of that interest the county has reached another level," Beall said.
While his tenure is up, don't expect Beall to ride off into the sunset. He said he plans to stay involved in community affairs.
His immediate plans are to go skiing and to draw up plans for a house he wants to build this summer.
And what about his first day as Citizen Beall?
"I don't have a meeting, but I have a meeting. I'll be turning a chairmanship over to someone else," he said.
"I guess someday I'll wake up and be able to have more time, and maybe exercise and lose 20 pounds."