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Media Article # 528
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
[Patterson footage investigator to be appointed assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks for the U.S. Department of Interior]
By Jeremy Meyer
The Denver Post
Parks nominee not above debate
Lyle Laverty, tapped by Bush for an Interior Department post, has a record of bolstering Colorado's parks amid tough times and also of taking some questionable personal perks.
As Colorado parks director, Lyle Laverty revamped and upgraded state parks, built luxury cabins and boosted attendance despite budget cuts.
He also used public funds to buy a riding horse, and he traveled to Lebanon and Tanzania.
Laverty's record during six years at the helm of the parks division shows his flair for managing the cash- strapped parks and his penchant for personal perks, say current and former state officials.
Now Laverty, 64, who announced Monday that he would step down May 1, is awaiting Senate confirmation to become assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks in the Department of Interior. President Bush nominated him for the post in March.
As parks director, Laverty coped with a 20 percent cut in state funding while managing to boost park attendance by 7.6 percent to 11.4 million visitors.
He oversaw the overhaul and improvements of several parks, including building highly sought after cabins in two parks.
"Lyle's a big-picture guy," said parks board member Tom Glass. "He has been a very, very good thing for state parks."
Still, the parks division is being audited after accounting problems were revealed by Great Outdoors Colorado, the trust that disburses lottery funds.
In February, the GOCO board temporarily withheld $8.5 million from parks.
"God help us if he takes over our national parks," said Bob Goodnough, former controller for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
"Just working with the man and seeing his record with parks, I can just imagine what he can do on a national level," Goodnough said.
Laverty used $5,000 in state money to buy a horse for the agency, which he later sold to his son-in-law.
Under Laverty, job specifications for the parks' chief financial officer were changed, and a friend of his was hired.
Laverty spent 11 percent of his time - about 200 days - on travel, including trips to Tanzania and Lebanon.
Laverty says there are explanations for each case.
In 2004, the state bought "Harley," an 8-year-old Missouri fox trotter, according to records obtained by The Denver Post.
The animal was used to make a connection with the equestrian community and get to hard-to-reach areas in the parks system, Laverty said.
John Nelson said he sold Laverty the horse because Laverty was becoming a member of the Roundup Riders of the Rockies - a 59-year-old fraternity of influential men from around the country who every July ride Colorado's trails.
Six months later, Laverty sold the horse to his son-in-law for $5,000, reimbursing the state in full after legislators questioned its purchase.
"We said, 'We're not going to put the whole program and division in jeopardy,"' Laverty said. "So we sold it."
Laverty defends the purchase of Harley and his links to the Roundup Riders of the Rockies.
"It's certainly an appropriate use," Laverty said. "If the agency had a horse and that was an opportunity to interact with folks who had an interest in what our business is all about, there's nothing wrong with that."
Last year, the Roundup Riders donated $10,000 for renovations at Golden Gate State Park.
As for the chief financial officer's job specifications, they were changed in 2003 from manager to budget analyst II - requiring less specialized education and job experience, according to records.
Laverty contends the specifications were changed so the job would reflect the need for someone who understood management systems.
Laverty said his friend Elling Myklebust was chosen fairly from among 47 applicants.
On travel, Laverty said he is on many national boards and the overseas trips were paid for from nonstate funds.
"It's an opportunity to market Colorado," he said. "I just view it as part of the business."
When Laverty took over as parks director, he oversaw a marketing study that found people would pay for comfort and convenience. Campsites were upgraded with hookups to water, sewers and electricity.
The agency spent about $1 million to build three fully furnished cabins in Mueller State Park in Teller County.
Another three full-service cabins were built in Navajo State Park near Pagosa Springs.
The Mueller cabins are booked six months in advance, and marketing suggested the same type of amenities would be successful at the new Cheyenne Mountain State Park, he said.
In February the GOCO board rejected an idea to add amenities to Cheyenne Mountain - including "full-service" cabins valued at $500,000 to $815,000, a $1.26 million lodge and a $4.3 million events center.
"Looking for innovation"
Russell George, the former director of the Department of Natural Resources and Laverty's boss, said those kinds of changes to parks were necessary.
"He certainly understands the broad outlook," George said. "He was always looking for innovation."
Before coming to parks, Laverty was with the U.S. Forest Service, beginning in the 1960s when he attained a measure of fame for photographing alleged Bigfoot prints in California.
Laverty's climb up the Forest Service ladder took him from ranger to regional forester for the Rocky Mountain region and eventually to deputy director of the agency.
He wrote the National Fire Plan and became known as the country's first "Fire Czar."
In 2001, Laverty became director of the Colorado Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation - overseeing 40 parks throughout the state.
Almost immediately, Laverty began wrestling with budget cuts from the General Assembly, fires and drought.
Within two years, 30 parks employees were laid off. The number of seasonal employees was cut in half. The backlog in deferred maintenance grew to more than $150 million.
Laverty helped secure millions in federal grants to reduce the fire threat. He also began treating the parks department like a business.
"When you're running a business like parks - and I think it's as close to a business as anything that you would find in state government - you have to be able to utilize and apply those business principles," he said.
Mike King, the current deputy director of the Department of Natural Resources, said, however, there are risks to running parks like a business.
As park fees are raised to generate revenue, for example, some may lose access, King said.
"Parks is in a real tough situation," he said.
Staff writer Jeremy P. Meyer can be reached at 303-954-1367 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in the Denver Post -- one of the few, honest newspapers in the country that has exhibited a relatively informed attitude toward this topic.
Lyle Laverty is an expert on the Patterson-Gimlin footage. He was one of a small handful of people who investigated the site of the footage the day after the incident occured in 1967. He photographed the tracks at the site in Bluff Creek. Some of his photos from that day are iconic images among bigfoot researchers.
Laverty is a respected figure in bigfoot research, and a rare figure in government service. He symbolizes the notion that speaking openly about the mystery, and the associated evidence, will not marginalize the speaker or hinder a career in government service in any way.
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