Doug Monger, fierce advocate for rural Routt County, ends 20-year run as commissioner
First elected in 2000, Monger sought to influence the future of the county his family helped build.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Doug Monger’s great-grandparents came to the United States in the late 1800s from Sweden. Originally settling near Boulder, they soon moved to Routt County about a decade after Colorado received statehood.
Generations of his family have lived in the Yampa Valley since, with Monger being the fourth generation and his son being the fifth.
“We’ve been ranchers, coal miners, union and not union, we have done everything,” said Monger, an accountant by trade.
Monger, 64, attended University of Northern Colorado to earn a degree in accounting because his “frugal mother” decided he needed to learn how to do something other than ranch. After college, Monger embarked on a trip through Europe, but traveling only endeared him more to his home.
“All the things that you see traveling, Routt County had all of that stuff,” Monger said. “It was kind of like, take care of what you have and not be looking at the sky and seeing what else you can get out there.”
It is the deep roots and connection to the county that drove Monger to run for public office. Monger humbly admits he did not expect to “drop down from heaven and recreate Earth,” but he did want to have an influence on the future of the county his family helped build as a county commissioner.
“I just thought that I would have an opportunity to help set direction for what we wanted to do and what we wanted the county to look like in 50 years or 20 years,” Monger said.
Monger’s 20-year tenure as a Routt County commissioner will end Tuesday when former Hayden Mayor Tim Redmond, who defeated Monger in November’s general election, will be sworn in virtually.
Colleagues describe Monger as a fierce advocate for rural Routt County with the desire to maintain the distinction between urban and rural areas. He has been a key leader in projects like the Yampa Valley Regional Airport, which has helped the county grow over time.
They also describe him as a nearly endless source for historical information about the county, a fun person to work with and someone who always said what he felt.
“If I feel it, I am going to say it,” Monger said. “Live by it or die by it, at least you didn’t wonder what I was thinking because I said it.”
Since Monger was first elected in 2000, Routt County’s population has grown by more than 25%. The median household income in the county has increased by over 60%, with the 2019 estimate exceeding $87,000, according to census data.
Despite the growth, Monger considers conservation and land use throughout the county as some of his most significant work.
This has included limiting development in rural parts of the county and trying to keep growth closer to urban centers. Monger said this is important because it allows the county to more efficiently provide services to residents.
Commissioners also were able to prevent the south valley below Rabbit Ears from being significantly developed, preserving majestic views and open space at the entrance to Steamboat Springs.
“When you drop off the top of Rabbit Ears and look down into the valley, oh hello, and we’re home,” Monger said.
Commissioner Tim Corrigan describes Monger as “fiercely protective of the county, of its employees, of its infrastructure and of its organization.”
One example of this for Corrigan was in 2012 when there was a push for oil and gas development in the county. He said Monger believed property owners had the right to develop mineral resources, but they didn’t have the right for that development to adversely effect the county’s air, water and roads.
“What came out of that was, I think, Routt County has some of the most robust local regulations that are possible in the state of Colorado,” Corrigan said. “What is really unique is how Doug insisted that road impacts get taken care of.”
That insistence led to the policy the county uses today, which requires road upgrades before an oil and gas well can begin construction, Corrigan said. Other counties will have the developer pay an estimate to fix the road, which is often well below the actual cost, Corrigan said.
Water has also been an important issue for Monger, and he has served on several different water district commissions and advocated at the state level. Corrigan said he doesn’t think Monger has been given enough credit for the work he has done to protect Western Slope water.
Still, Monger said he is disappointed he and his fellow commissioners over the years have not been able to provide more growth around Steamboat, specifically to the west. Part of maintaining a community to Monger is ensuring that people who work in Steamboat can afford to live in Steamboat.
But Monger said the lack of growth has probably contributed to the success of the town of Hayden, which he said has grown to have excellent schools and provide good services for its residents.
He also said he is proud of the work the county has done at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport, bringing it from a facility that stored baggage in tents to one that has five major airlines servicing it this winter.
“If you have a first-class ski resort, you can’t have a place that you come into and have tents,” Monger said. “It is the first thing that you see when you come into the valley and the last thing you see when you leave the valley if you come in through the airport.”
Monger helped create the Yampa Valley Regional Airport Commission, which provides oversight to both the airport in Hayden and the one in Steamboat. Kevin Booth, director of the airport in Hayden for the past six years, said he has appreciated Monger’s attention to the airport and its growth.
“He was interested from day one with me,” Booth said. “He has been very supportive of development at both airports.”
Booth said when he walked into his interview for the airport director job in a suit and tie, Monger commented that Booth would not be seen wearing either of them again working for the county. After getting the job, Booth said Monger’s historical knowledge was crucial to Booth because he did not overlap with his predecessor.
Kim Bonner, county clerk and recorder for the past 14 years, said she and Monger are somewhat kindred spirits in a way because of their long tenures with the county.
“He’s funny, I always get a kick out of him,” Bonner said. “I appreciate his personality, and I’ve enjoyed working with him.”
She said she would miss his honesty and how he always recognized her office’s contributions to the county.
While he may be more “old school” in terms of record keeping, Corrigan said Monger has an incredible memory. Corrigan remembered times when the commissioners would be discussing how they arrived at a particular decision in the past, and Monger would have the answer.
“Doug would jump up in the BCC hearing room, walk back into his office and a minute later come out with a piece of paper that was a historical record of what had happened 15 years earlier,” Corrigan said.
Most of all, Corrigan said he will miss Monger’s honesty and directness.
“Doug does not pussy foot around,” Corrigan said. “If there is something that somebody needs to know, he will tell them.”
As an accountant, Corrigan said Monger has been an asset to the board when it comes to managing budgets. He commends Monger for the success of the pay-as-you-go system the county uses to fund most equipment upgrades, Corrigan said.
“We don’t ever have to borrow money or put off fixing things,” Corrigan said. “We have the money in the bank.”
He also noted the county always had a balanced budget when Monger was a commissioner, even when it required them to make hard cuts during the Great Recession.
Monger said he most enjoyed working with Nancy Stahoviak, who was a commissioner from 1993 to 2013 and showed him the ropes when he was first elected.
“She was so knowledgeable and kind,” Monger said. “She was a good people person, and with being an introvert, that is not so easy for myself.”
He said he has valued how each commissioner has their own perspective and their own opinion, which ensured the board was not always looking in the same direction and had some diversity of thought.
“Different eyes see different things, and we all have different strengths,” Monger said.
In a tribute video to Monger, Commissioner Beth Melton said he has served as a mentor for her.
“From the moment that I came out to meet you and Loretta on the ranch, when I decided to run for office until now, you have been a great mentor and a great leader for Routt County,” Melton said.
Monger said he never ran for commissioner because of politics, and he always strived to be a centrist. He was registered with the Democratic Party for most of his tenure on the board but dropped party affiliation in 2019 because of how divided politics has gotten.
“I really have struggled, especially in the last eight years, with the divisiveness that we have come up with,” Monger said. “I got in office to take care of both parties at the local level and not be swayed by what has happened nationally or statewide.”
After 20 years of county leadership, Monger admits the views of the residents of Routt County have changed over time. He said about 40% of the county’s residents turn over every 10 years, and the new people coming in bring their own ideas.
“What I did or what I said, that is not gospel anymore,” Monger said. “We need to figure out who we want to be as we grow up in the new Steamboat, the new Routt County.”
Monger will continue to be involved in some commissions in the county, especially when it comes to water, which has been important to him and his family for a long time. He said he wants to focus on his health and his ranch, and he does not plan on leaving Routt County anytime soon.
“People have said I can be a little bit rough under the collar, a little bit grumpy, and I say it comes with passion. I’m a very passionate person, and I can wear it on my sleeve sometimes,” Monger said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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