Gary Gray has earned the U.S. Forest Service's Engineering Technician of the Year award. Gray has worked for the service since 1980 and manages the engineering group covering the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest and Thunder Basin National Grassland.

Photo by John F. Russell

Gary Gray has earned the U.S. Forest Service's Engineering Technician of the Year award. Gray has worked for the service since 1980 and manages the engineering group covering the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest and Thunder Basin National Grassland.

Gray named region's Engineering Technician of the Year

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Gary Gray wins Forest Service award

Longtime Routt National Forest engineer Gary Gray recently won the regional Technical Engineer of the Year Award from the Forest Service. Gray has been with the forest service for more than two decades.

Longtime Routt National Forest engineer Gary Gray recently won the regional Technical Engineer of the Year Award from the Forest Service. Gray has been with the forest service for more than two decades.

— Gary Gray's former supervisor noticed one thing about him from the get-go.

"If you walk into the office, Gary's probably working hard at his computer," Claudia Hill said. "And he's probably not wearing shoes."

When he has to be in the office, the outdoorsman seems more comfortable in his green socks. Gray is the south zone engineer for the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest and Thunder Basin National Grassland. He's also the Engineering Technician of the Year for the U.S. Forest Service's Rocky Mountain region.

Hill nominated him for the award, and Gray found out he won about a month ago.

"I categorize Gary in the four years I knew him, and he worked for me in Steamboat as a workhorse," Hill said. "Everything I handed to Gary, he did it, and he usually did it with a smile on his face."

Gray started doing seasonal work for the Forest Service in Steamboat Springs in 1978. He started in the world of woods, fighting forest fires on crews in Oregon and California, though he's originally from the East Coast.

"My wife, Nancy, says that I was misplaced," Gray said. "I should have been out West."

The two have been married 30 years and have two daughters in their 20s, Jessica and Rebecca.

He now works with timber sales and has helped design hundreds of roads for timber companies coming in to log. He also coordinates safety and information signs, as well as hazardous materials cleanup across the region's Forest Service land.

If a vehicle carrying fuel crashes on Rabbit Ears Pass, Gray gets a call. He'll coordinate efforts to clean up the spill and protect wildlife and the water supply.

"The Forest Service has been a good job," Gray said. "It's rewarding, and you feel like you're doing the right thing."

Sometimes, Gray said, his hazardous materials role gets particularly interesting. He found a methamphetamine laboratory while on a drive once.

I "pulled off the side of the road and just found it," he said. "I worked with the county on that. : You have to have the cooperation of other agencies to get this work done."

Gray is passionate about preserving the land and helping the community.

"When I look at a location of a road, I think if this were my house back there, is this where I'd want a road?" he said.

All over the map

Gray's work covers a lot of ground. The Medicine Bow-Routt and Thunder Basin land runs to Montana and the Dakotas and then south to the White River, Gray said. The territory covers about 3.3 million acres, said Diann Ritschard, public affairs director for the area.

Adding roads to that land requires a lot of paperwork, Gray said. The logging roads are closed after their use. When it sells timber, the Forest Service is required to meet requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. The public doesn't always understand how much work goes into it, Gray said.

"Before we do anything on the ground, we spend a lot of time at the front on the NEPA process - time and money," he said.

There are projects that push through smoothly, however. Some call them "white hat" projects. At the Forest Service, Gray and Ritschard go with "green hat" instead. Gray plans to work on one this summer: the closure of former mines for safety purposes.

"It's way more than 'feel good,'" Ritschard said. "It's good all around."

Gray loves his job, partly because it allows him to work in the field. He's rarely in the office from June to about November. He also enjoys working with contractors and his colleagues.

Gray has a wealth of knowledge, Hill said. She was forest engineer in Routt - her first Forest Service job. Gary taught her a great deal, said Hill, who now works in South Dakota. He's an avid bow hunter and skier.

He's also a dependable fellow who's fairly set in his ways, Hill said.

"The drafting tables in the engineering room were right outside my office," she said. "I could usually set my clock by looking out and seeing Gary perched on one of the drafting chairs with his lunch cooler and his newspaper."

Ritschard said he earned the Engineering Technician of the Year honor.

"He has done all these various duties with exemplary skill, knowledge and personal relationships," Ritschard said. "He deserved the award. He indeed did."

Gray said he was surprised to receive the Engineering Technician of the Year award. His colleagues deserve much of the credit, he said. Everything at the Forest Service is a team effort, particularly because the agency faces frequent budget and staff shortages, Gary said.

But Gray really just likes working in the woods - and working hard.

"I said, 'Why me?'" he said with a grin. "I'm just doing my job."

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