Yampa John Anarella isn't just the wilderness program manager for the U.S. Forest Service's Yampa Ranger District.
He supervises recreation, campgrounds, trails and facilities while handling day-to-day operations. He's also a Routt National Forest historian, with vast knowledge about the area. And he's a wilderness advocate. It's Anarella's job to help protect the Flat Tops and Sarvis Creek wilderness areas - what he calls his 400,000-acre office.
"With wilderness, we're not saving it for 2030," he said. "We're trying to keep this place in its primitive condition for the sake of itself. It's not just for human use."
Anarella is being honored for that commitment. He will accept the Aldo Leopold Award for overall wilderness stewardship Oct. 7 in Washington, D.C., as part of the Forest Service's National Wilderness Awards.
According to a letter announcing the award recipients from Joel D. Holtrop, deputy chief for the U.S. Forest Service, Anarella is being honored for his "exemplary leadership in accomplishing the 10-year Wilderness Stewardship Challenge, including authoring the Wilderness Invasive Weed Program, developing a wilderness education plan and articulating the wilderness management objectives for the Forest Service Fire Plan."
Anarella, 47, said he was "beyond humbled" at being chosen to receive the award.
Overlooking the Stillwater Reservoir south toward the snow-covered Flat Tops on Tuesday, Anarella explained how the area was preserved 90 years ago.
In 1919, after a visit to Trappers Lake as a recreation engineer for the Forest Service, Arthur Carhart suggested the area of horizontal peaks more than 12,000 feet above sea level be saved. The Flat Tops became a "primitive area" in the 1930s and was designated a wilderness area Dec. 12, 1975 - 11 years after Congress approved the Wilderness Act.
Anarella, who has a waist-length graying and braided ponytail, stood silently while facing the Flat Tops after telling the story. In his 22 years with the Forest Service in Routt County, Anarella has taken to heart the responsibility to help preserve what Carhart and others before him were able to accomplish: making sure national forests exist for future generations.
Kim Dufty only worked as Anarella's boss for two years in Yampa, but he clearly left an impression on her. She led the effort to nominate Anarella for the Leopold award.
"He inspires a wilderness ethic," said Dufty, who is now the recreation manager for the Forest Service's South Park Ranger District in Fairplay. "He does it because it's the right thing to do and because wilderness is an important asset to protect to ensure our children and our children's children have the opportunity to experience it."
Where he's happiest
Anarella's love of the outdoors began as a student at the State University of New York in Plattsburgh, near the Adirondack Mountains. The Rochester, N.Y., native said a hiking trip to the Vail Valley in 1981 helped cement that love. After graduating with a bachelor's degree in environmental studies, it was time for Anarella to find a job. He wanted to work outdoors and moved to Steamboat Springs in 1987 to become a ranger in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area.
"That's how I got started, beating the bush," Anarella said about his time outside, when he wasn't under a roof in the "Mad House," the old Mad Creek guard station that was torn down two years ago. "I would get dropped off on a Thursday and picked up on a Tuesday."
After working in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness for three years, Anarella moved to the Yampa Ranger District in 1990.
Since that time, he's worked on the Forest Service's 10-year Wilderness Stewardship Challenge, which has goals including monitoring air quality, preserving primitive or unconfined recreation, preventing degradation and promoting wilderness education.
Anarella created an education piece for the Forest Service to manage noxious plants in wilderness areas and worked on preserving wilderness during fire suppression events. He said one of the great things about his job was that it provided him plenty of variety.
While driving on Forest Service Road 910 toward Gardner Park Reservoir, Anarella cued up his iPod to music he recorded at home with his children - he plays the guitar, and his sons play the piano and drums. Anarella described why he loves the Flat Tops. He said they're not the typical pointed peaks normally associated with the Rocky Mountains.
"To me, you've just got to see these places," he said. "When you see people out here recreating, you rarely see someone unhappy."
Anarella has introduced his love for the outdoors to his family. He and his wife, Kate, have taken their children, 11-year-old Sarvis - named for the wilderness area - 8-year-old Truman, and 3-year-old Carmen, on hiking and camping trips.
Dufty said Anarella's passion for wilderness is a core value that he believes is important. She added that Anarella's work with the Forest Service always has been more than just a job to him - a sentiment he confirms every day.
"I guess I'm happiest when I'm outside," he said.