County official honored |

County official honored

Mike Zopf wins statewide environmental award

— Mike Zopf is not the kind of man who seeks recognition for his work. So, his staff sought it for him.

Zopf began working for the Routt County of Environmental Health in 1977. He has been director of the department since 1978. This month, after nearly 30 years of county service, he received the Milton M. Miller Award from the Colorado Environmental Health Association.

Heather Savalox, a Routt County environmental health specialist who has worked with Zopf for six years, nominated him for the honor.

According to the association’s selection criteria, the award is given to association members who “have performed professional duties in the field of environmental health, above and beyond the usual employment requirements, so as to elevate the professional status of the environmental health professional.”

“It’s their highest and most prestigious award,” Savalox said. “It’s given out on a yearly basis, but only in years when there’s an eligible applicant.”

Zopf will receive the award at a banquet during the health association’s annual educational conference Sept. 21 in Vail. He learned about the honor Aug. 23 and was publicly recognized at a meeting of city and county officials Tuesday.

“It has been a love affair, living and working in Routt County,” Zopf, an avid outdoorsman, said at the meeting. “But I’ve done nothing single-handedly.”

City and county officials praised his dedicated work in numerous areas, such as ongoing inspections of more than 200 local food service establishments, including schools and day care centers; management of sewage disposal regulations in Routt County; protection of groundwater from contamination; management of water and sanitation districts in Phippsburg and Milner; operation of recycling and hazardous waste disposal programs; and continuous monitoring of air quality in Steamboat Springs and across the county.

Savalox said Steamboat residents might remember “brown clouds” that permeated city air as recently as 20 years ago.

“There used to be quite a bit of air pollution, because of the way our valley is laid out,” she said, citing excessive smoke from wood-burning fireplaces, and residue from scoria used for road maintenance. “Mike worked with an air quality committee to clean up the air and to monitor air quality every day.”

That monitoring occurs with data from a weather station atop the Routt County Courthouse on Lincoln Ave, Savalox said.

This summer, Zopf coordinated numerous agencies and staff to monitor environmental health and services at the month-long gathering of the Rainbow Family of Living Light, held on U.S. Forest Service land near Big Red Park, about 35 miles north of Steamboat.

Zopf monitored issues such as waste disposal and water quality at the gathering, which, at its peak, drew an estimated 15,000 people to a roughly 4-square-mile site.

“Somehow he has managed to pursue all of this environmental activity and still be one of the nicest guys in the county, who brings diplomacy and good humor to every situation,” environmental health employee Nadine Harrach said.

Before submitting the nomination, Savalox acquired letters of reference from numerous local restaurant owners, county employees and colleagues of Zopf.

The process took about a month, she said.

“He’s a really soft-spoken guy, and I just felt he needed a little bit of recognition,” Savalox said. “He is really deserving (of the award).”

– To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203 or e-mail

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