20 Under 40: Brendan Kelly takes pride in caring for land and serving people

Brendan Kelly
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

In a region where so many types of recreation are important to so many people, U.S. Forest Service Recreation Program Manager Brendan Kelly has the job of helping balance the desires of diverse groups while also conserving forest resources.

So, it’s a great fit that the former Boy Scout from a small town in Iowa who grew up playing in and appreciating the outdoors, is a well-liked and well-respected professional across many different groups. Affable and adaptable, Kelly said the Forest Service motto “caring for the land and serving people” connects to his core personal values.

“I’m very fortunate to get to work with a broad diversity of local partners and volunteer groups who are passionate and give a lot back to the community and forest,” Kelly said. “I take pride in managing a diversity of high-quality recreation experiences while trying to minimize impacts to other resources. I love running into people in the forest recreating who are enjoying the outdoors as much as I do.”

After working for the White River National Forest and living in Minturn for five years, Kelly moved to Steamboat Springs three years ago to work for the Routt National Forest. He said he was attracted by the recreation amenities he manages and enjoys plus the quality of the community.

Laraine Martin, executive director at Routt County Riders, has collaborated on projects with Kelly for eight years and describes him as “focused, balanced, energetic, professional.”

“When I heard he was moving into this position, I knew we were getting lucky. He’s been awesome to work with,” Martin said.

Girlfriend Erin Swanson describes Kelly, 39, as compassionate, genuine and thoughtful.

“He is hardworking and dedicated to everything he does,” Swanson said. “Brendan is a leader who will do the dirty work alongside his team while having a smile on his face. He is a positive leader who tries to accommodate all needs while making sure the task is completed.”

If you go

What: 2022 20 Under 40 Celebration

When: 5 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 1

Where: Snow Bowl Steamboat, 2090 Snow Bowl Plaza


Kelly’s life path may have been destined early since he graduated from Forest City High School in Forest City, Iowa. He earned a degree in forestry from Iowa State University then started on the ground floor in groundskeeping for the Forest Service. He worked his way up managing recreation on Arapaho National Forest near Granby, Stanislaus National Forest in California and White River National Forest. In Eagle County, Kelly volunteered with SOS Outreach to mentor underserved kids and introduce them to skiing or snowboarding.

In 2020, he completed a master’s degree in natural resource stewardship remotely from Colorado State University. During the same timeframe, he completed a Forest Service leadership course, led the local USFS recreation program through a global pandemic, led the Mad Rabbit Trails project planning effort, and coordinated with the Steamboat Ski Resort on its ski area improvement projects.

His job includes overseeing recreation on 500,000 acres of land and 500 miles of trails and supervising 15 employees.

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