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Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson to retire June 3

Kurt Nelson
Kurt Nelson

KETCHUM, Idaho (KIFI) — Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson will retire June 3, the same day he wraps up his 45th year of federal service.

Nelson has served stakeholders, county commissioners, partners and agencies in the Wood River Valley in the district ranger position since 1995.

“Kurt’s leaving some big shoes to fill,” Forest Supervisor Jake Strohmeyer said. “The way he’s engaged his community, proactively approached resource issues, and cared for his staff during the last 27 ½ years will not soon be forgotten.”

Nelson began his Forest Service career in 1978 as a wildlife biologist on the Carson National Forest. He also served as a wildlife biologist on Chugach National Forest before he was promoted to Cordova District Ranger in 1985. In 1988, Nelson moved to the Payette National Forest, where he served as a forest staff officer. Nelson then joined the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project as Terrestrial Science Team Co-leader in 1994. In October 1995, Nelson assumed his current leadership position.

“I really just love the job,” Nelson said. “It’s really about caring for the resources and serving the people, as Gifford Pinchot said so well in 1907.”

During his time as the Ketchum District Ranger, Nelson has fostered numerous partnerships, most notably with the 5B Restoration Coalition, Wood River Trails Coalition, National Forest Foundation, and Blaine County. Combining public and private support, Nelson’s district successfully rebuilt over 100 miles of trails, rebuilt several miles of road following fires, and relocated roads out of riparian zones prone to washout and flooding.

Nelson has also overseen the Bald Mountain Stewardship Project, a multi-year, multi-agency forest health and fuels reduction project initiated in 2020 in partnership with the 5B Restoration Coalition, National Forest Foundation, Sun Valley Company, Bureau of Land Management, Idaho Fish and Game, Blaine County, and the cities of Ketchum, Sun Valley, and Hailey. The project also marked the start of the National Forest Foundation’s  Wood for Life Program, which donates underused timber products from forest restoration efforts to Indigenous communities that rely on firewood to heat their homes.

Other notable projects Nelson has supervised include:

  • restoration of the Pioneer Cabin, an iconic structure built in 1938 by Austrian ski instructors with the Sun Valley Company;
  • development of the 17-mile Osberg Ridge Trail, an iconic ridgeline trail between Warm Springs and Baker Creek drainages; and
  • adaptive sports alterations to the Adams Gulch Area Trails, which allows differently abled users to enjoy mountain biking with handcycles.

A qualified Agency Administrator, Nelson also provided leadership through several wildland fires that threatened Wood River Valley communities, including the 48,520-acre Castle Rock Fire in 2007, the 114,900-acre Beaver Creek Fire in 2013, and the nearly 65,000-acre Sharps Fire in 2018. He also served as an Agency Administrator on wildland fires all over the Intermountain Region and spent countless hours training others to serve in the role.

Nelson’s retirement plans are to stay active and travel. This summer, he has plans to travel with friends to Europe, where they will go hiking in Spain and ride bikes from the Slovenian Alps to the Adriatic Sea. Nelson has also received an invitation to float on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in July.

“After 45 years, it’s time to just take a step back and take a breather,” Nelson said. “There’s a lot of the world that we want to see that we haven’t had the opportunity to explore.”

Fire Management Officer Matt Filbert will temporarily fill the district ranger position until the position is filled permanently.

Article Topic Follows: Idaho

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