C.J. Mucklow-Fighting the good fight

Longtime extension agent works to preserve, enhance area agriculture

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Curtis "C.J." Mucklow's parents were travel agents, and growing up, Mucklow got to experience the world. He traveled to Spain, Mexico, Hawaii, Canada and all parts of the United States.
"Being able to travel gave me a real perspective," Mucklow said. "I looked the world over and realized this was the best place for me. I tell a lot of the 4-H kids that you have to go find out for yourself and broaden your horizons. Then, once you've had those experiences and you know what is out there, come back if you want."
Mucklow first visited Steamboat in the 1970s as a teen on a ski trip. He came back while taking time off from college to work as a ranch hand for Leroy McLaughlin in Clark. When Routt County agricultural extension agent Sam Haslam retired in 1989, Mucklow came back for good.
Mucklow has spent the last 15 years as an agent and director of the county's extension office. He is a trusted and valuable resource, relied upon by everyone from longtime farmers and ranchers to condominium owners trying to landscape small patches of yard. Not bad for someone who says he grew up in "suburbia," though both sets of grandparents were ranchers in Kansas and Nebraska.
Mucklow said that early in his extension agent career, he didn't want to let others know that he didn't come from a farming and ranching background. Even today, Mucklow's neighbors in Clark "kid me about my eight cows," he said.
But Mucklow long ago proved you don't have to grow up on a farm or ranch to be a good agent.
"He is so sincere about agriculture issues and he has overwhelming knowledge," said Marsha Daughenbaugh, executive director of the Community Agriculture Alliance. "When you discuss something with C.J., you know he's telling you the truth from his gut, his heart and his brain."
Daughenbaugh has known Mucklow since he became a Routt County extension agent in 1989. At the time, she was a 4-H leader and had children involved in 4-H. Mucklow immediately impressed her.
"What you see is what you get with C.J.," she said. "He has a common-sense approach and doesn't get rattled by the small things. He has a real talent for working with people to get things done."
Jay Whaley came to know Mucklow when Whaley was a youth participant in Routt County 4-H. For the past six years, he has worked for Mucklow as the extension agent responsible for the county's
4-H programs.
"When you talk about C.J. and his involvement in the agriculture community, I believe he is so successful because he has a passion for that way of life and for keeping agriculture alive in our community," Whaley said. "He's a pleasure to work for. He allows us to be creative in the way we do our jobs."
Mucklow's interest in agriculture blossomed when he worked as a ranch hand for McLaughlin. He started at $450 per month and got a $100 raise his first month on the job. "I just thought it was the cat's meow," he said.
He did a little of everything -- fencing, irrigating, working with cows -- and it spurred a deeper interest in agriculture and the land.
He returned to school at Colorado State University and changed his major to animal science. He eventually earned his master's degree.
Mucklow thought he would have a career in commodities or agriculture banking, but after graduation in the mid-1980s, jobs were scarce. He landed in Simla as an Elbert County agricultural extension agent in charge of the 4-H program. He was there three years when Haslem retired. He jumped at the chance to replace the longtime agent.
"I knew that this was an area where I wanted to be," Mucklow said. "It's just a great place to be, a great community."
It's also different from most extension service jobs. Routt County has deep agricultural roots, but it also has a ski area, heavy tourism, ever-increasing development and vast public lands.
Such competing land use interests can pose unique challenges for an extension agent.
Mucklow said the development pressures that rural landowners face are a serious threat to the viability of traditional agriculture.
"It is a real challenge anywhere in the nation," he said. "But it is especially so here where the value of the land is so out of whack with the productivity of the land."
Mucklow's focus is not so much production agriculture as it is land management. He spends a lot of time with new landowners who are dabbling in agriculture for the first time.
"The people I help the most are the novices, the people who have recently acquired land and want to run a few cows or start a haying operation," Mucklow said. "My goal is to help them be successful because that's how I can best help those longtime ranchers. If I can help make their new neighbors better land managers, then the new neighbors are less of a threat."
Mucklow also has been a critical player in solving problems and developing resources for the agriculture community to utilize. Some examples:
n He helped lead the development of two value-added agricultural product companies -- Yampa Valley Beef and Routt County Woolens.
n He helped develop the "Guide to Rural Living," a guidebook to assist those landowners new to the agriculture business. The guide has served as a model for eight other counties to use.
n He assisted in the creation of the Community Agriculture Alliance to help bridge the gap between the resort and agriculture communities.
n He coordinated publication of "Rivers, Range and Change," a photographical essay documenting ecological change to riparian areas.
n He established the first extension service Web site in Colorado and helped other counties get their Web sites launched.
n He helped establish a Routt County 4-H Scholarship Fund that is now a $225,000 fund.
n When grasshoppers infested Routt County two summers ago, Mucklow became the county's resident expert, developing a program to help everyone from hay producers to homeowners reduce grasshopper populations.
Such accomplishments, Whaley said, indicate Mucklow's ability to tackle any problem he confronts.
"I think he is good at finding a way to get the job done," Whaley said. "He has a way of finding solutions to problems, finding a way to make sure the agriculture community survives."
Longtime rancher Jim Stanko has known Mucklow since Mucklow began his career with the extension service. The two worked together for years in the Routt County office.
"C.J. is an individual who really does have a concern for agriculture," Stanko said. "He is always trying to promote it and make it as viable and help out as much as he can. He has gone over and above what a lot of other extension agents in the state have done for their counties."
Mucklow said he has been tempted to leave before. He almost took a job in Montana once. But he and his wife, Nancy, and their two sons, Andy, 14, and David, 11, have built a life in Routt County that continues to challenge and reward them.
"I don't regret that I am not in ag banking," he said. "I have regrets that I could have done things better. I didn't plan to be an extension agent but here I am and it has been good to me and my family.
"I certainly could have chosen a career that would have paid more, but being rich is not always about wealth."

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