STARS hires Steamboat local as new executive director
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Longtime Steamboat Springs resident Gardner Flanigan has been hired as the new executive director of STARS — Steamboat Recreational Adaptive Sports.
Flanigan said he is thrilled to be working for a mission-driven organization, and one that is describes as “well-loved and supported in the community.”
Flanigan moved to Steamboat in 1986. He said he came here on vacation and fell in love with the community and the people.
“That’s a real story, I’m not making it up,” Flanigan said. “I came for the skiing, but seeing how connected people were here, and genuine, and unpretentious — I moved here 33 years ago and never left.”
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Flanigan was selected through a search involving STARS board members, staff, volunteers, parents of participants, veterans, donors and leadership from Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp.
With more than 20 years of leadership experience, Flanigan most recently worked as general manager at Moving Mountains. Prior to that, he spent about 15 years at Smartwool. He was the company’s seventh employee, working in various roles including global director of marketing. He also was a Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club coach for about 10 years and has volunteered with the club for 23 years.
He and his wife, Millie, are the proud parents of two ski-racers, Bode, 17, and Merritt, 12.
Flanigan grew up outside of Buffalo, New York, and remains a devoted Buffalo Bills fan — as painful as it can be, he jokes.
Flanigan is perhaps best known as an emcee — heard at many Winter Carnival and Fourth of July parades, as well as ski races, SSWSC events and other fundraising affairs, including one for STARS.
At this time, Flanigan said he is a sponge — learning everything he can.
He’s spending his first days alone at the STARS Ranch, after the organization was forced to cancel its programming for the rest of the winter season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While it isn’t the easiest circumstances to start the new role, Flanigan said his staff is already looking toward next year, as well as brainstorming how they can provide programming for local clients in the meantime.
They are retaining and paying year-round staff, he said, and paying winter staff until April 10 — same as they would have without the pandemic and Steamboat Resort closure.
Right now, the only direction to look is ahead, and Flanigan is excited about the potential to expand summer programming and to expand programming in general, especially with the opening of the STARS Ranch.
“The facility is incredible,” he said.
There are some things to finish at the facility that Flanigan is prioritizing — a ropes course, climbing wall and landscaping. And one of the aspects he’s most excited about is not only being able to serve more — and more diverse — clients at the ranch but also creating a place where spouses and families can stay and interact with other family members.
Flanigan joined amid another challenge — a public outcry from a large group of volunteers who were terminated after trying to raise concerns about how the organization was functioning.
Flanigan doesn’t have any firsthand experience with anything that happened in the past, but said, “in difficulty, lies great opportunity.”
Throughout his interview process and first week on the job, he said he was very impressed with the staff. He points to stellar survey results from clients and said he believes the positives happening in the organization far outweigh any negatives.
‘What I do know is that Julie (Taulman, former executive director) had a great vision, and this organization is in a really great position,” Flanigan said.
Flanigan made a strong commitment to investing in the current staff. High staff turnover was one of the chief concerns from the terminated volunteers, some who have returned and some who continue to work to have a dialogue with board members.
“Without any hesitation this is an incredible, passionate, talented and competent staff,” Flanigan said.
In terms of concerns, Flanigan said he is open to talking to anyone and would like to meet with more volunteers, including those with concerns. He said whether or not he agrees with everyone, “I am open.”
“There’s a lot for me to learn,” Flanigan acknowledged. “I’m very team-centric.”
He also said he plans on volunteering with clients, whether biking in the summer or skiing in the winter.
“I want to be engaged at every level,” Flanigan said.
Flanigan is already in the process of hiring a new development director to provide experience and expertise on fundraising and grant writing.
In addition to being part of the mission to give people with physical and cognitive disabilities outdoor recreation opportunities they might not otherwise have, he’s excited about the chance to give back.
“I feel so indebted to this community,” he said. “This community has given me and my family so much.”
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