Ability to get things done is a hallmark for Perry, Robertson

The hike a number of years ago took place on a blustery fall morning. There was a skiff of snow on the ground, and a breeze, but the temperature was comfortable and the views were wonderful.

The three of us hiked from McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, up and through the old Fruita Dugway cattle trail to the border of Colorado National Monument. It would have been a great hike, were it not for the drill-sergeant mentality of our leader.

Catherine Robertson of the Bureau of Land Management maintained a brisk pace — “forced march” is more accurate. Mike Perry, director of the Museum of Western Colorado, kept up well. I had thought I was in good shape, but I struggled to maintain the pace on the tough trail.

Even so, Perry and I had both hiked with — and worked with — Robertson before, and we knew full well what to expect. She had a destination in mind, and there would be few delays until that destination was reached, no matter what obstacles confronted us.

Mike Perry shares that sort of determination, although his manner of dealing with obstacles is often different than Robertson’s.

As most readers probably are aware, Robertson and Perry are retiring from their respective postitions as this year ends. And both can claim significant accomplishments during their many years on the job in Mesa County.

I’ve had the privilege of working with both of them for more than two decades — as a journalist reporting on their activities, as a colleague serving on organizations with which they were affiliated and as an occasional hiking partner.

Perry and I hit it off almost immediately. Robertson and I, not so quickly.

I first met Perry when I was reporting on the museum’s effort to open a new dinosaur museum with what was then a unique feature — robotic dinosaurs — in the old J.C. Penney’s building on Main Street.

This was during the economic downturn of the 1980s, and the museum was struggling financially. Perry’s push for the dinosaur museum met with some skepticism, including, I recall, from one of the Mesa County commissioners who had to approve some funding for the project. But the dinosaur project not only helped improve finances for the museum, it brought visitors to what was then a less-than-vibrant downtown and helped the local economy.

Later, that downtown museum would move and morph into what has become Dinosaur Journey in Fruita, still a money-making mainstay for the Museum of Western Colorado.

It was one of many successes for Mike Perry during his two stints as director of the museum.

Catherine Robertson recently sent me a copy of one of the first Daily Sentinel news stories in which her name appeared. It was from 1992 and told of her taking over as Grand Junction Resource Area manager for the BLM. I was the author.

That article didn’t cause any friction between us. It was another one I wrote, quoting unnamed BLM employees who were dissatisfied with her hiring for the Grand Junction office, that created a rift, at least temporarily.

Those employees are long since gone, while Robertson has remained. And, as a journalist who has covered many public-lands managers who came and went without leaving much trace, I soon came to realize what a unique manager Robertson was.

I firmly believe there would be no McInnis Canyons NCA today if it hadn’t been for Robertson’s ability to bring people of different backgrounds together to discuss their differences and find ways to resolve them.

There would likely be an expanded Colorado National Monument, designated by President Bill Clinton. But it wouldn’t have had the widespread community support that the NCA received, nor would it have accorded the same respect to historic and current uses of the area — from agriculture to hunting to off-road-vehicle use and mountain-bike riding.

I say that, not just as a journalist who wrote editorials in support of the congressional designation of the NCA, but as a member of the citizens committee that helped draft the original management plan for McInnis Canyons.

A few years later, Mike Perry and I were original members of a group called the Friends of McInnis Canyons, which was formed to assist the BLM by raising money and volunteer forces to work in the NCA. Robertson attended every one of those initial meetings.

That group has since grown into the Colorado Canyons Association, which can claim far more success than our original small group. It now assists not only with McInnis Canyons but with the Dominguez-Escalante and Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Areas.

McInnis Canyons is hardly Catherine Robertson’s only accomplishment over 20 years as resource area manager. There were many others, related to recreation, conservation and energy use. But McInnis Canyons is the one I’ve been most involved with, so I’m focusing on it.

The area received congressional designation in part because Robertson educated a lot of people besides me about the importance of these lands in our backyard and brought a lot of disparate interests together in support of protecting those lands. That model was later used with Dominguez-Escalante.

Dinosaur Valley — later Dinosaur Journey — would never have materialized without Mike Perry’s persistence and ability to persuade others to embrace his vision.

Both Robertson and Perry would say that these accomplishments and others during their tenure were the work of many people, not just them, and they’re right. But their leadership and determination to get things done, with solid community support, were critical factors.

The Grand Valley and surrounding areas have been served well by these two people, who always seemed more interested in making things happen than protecting their own careers.

They’ll both be remaining in the community and will likely stay involved in some fashion. So there’s a good chance new people will have an opportunity to work with them, as so many folks have done over the years.

But if you choose to go hiking with them, be sure to lace your boots up tightly.

Bob Silbernagel is the editorial page editor of The Daily Sentinel.

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