Wildlife officer announces retirement

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At the Sportsman's Center a group of hunters gathered around Chris Comstock, listening intently to every word he speaks. Their hands are full of flyers, maps, guides and other literature about the Craig area. They take turns pumping him for information.

Is it possible they know it could be the last year they will be able to reference this resource of hunting information or is it just another October day for Comstock?

After 10 years of being the information officer at the Sportsman's Center in Craig and 38 years in the U.S. Forest Service, Comstock is hanging it up. He will retire Nov. 15 and when he sits down in his office it is easy to see why. His periodic glances out his office window into the autumn outdoors tell the story.

"It is tough to sit in here on a fall day like today," said Comstock. "I finally said to myself, 'Well, hell, let's enjoy life and travel a little bit.'"

Maybe it is the traveling that he and his wife want to do, or maybe he has had enough of having to talk fishing and hunting all day with visitors without having the opportunity to get out and enjoy the outdoors himself. Either way it spells the end to an illustrious career.

Comstock was graduated from Washington State College in 1959 with a degree in forestry.

"It was different back then," said Comstock. "It was a seller's market. They were looking for people with a forestry background; now it's tough getting a job in that field."

While in school and after he was graduated, he was stationed at Mt. Saint Helens in Washington where for 10 years he oversaw logging and road projects.

"I think back to all that work we did and now everything is blown away or covered under 30 feet of lava," said Comstock with a chuckle.

From Mt. Saint Helens it was on to Mt. Baker in Washington in 1965 where he helped initiate the Job Core program in Washington state. The program started with 220 men who were given jobs on forestry projects and building a highway through the wilderness area.

"It was real interesting," said Comstock. "I'm out 18 miles in the woods with these guys from the inner city who didn't know which way was up. It took us four years to put the highway through there."

From Mt. Baker he went to Chelan, Wash., where he was instrumental in establishing a new park on a 55-mile inland lake. A huge forest fire had just gone through the area..

"They gave me the charred remains," said Comstock. "We cleaned up trees and roads and established a visitors' center."

In 1974 he was transferred back to Mt. Baker, this time on the other side of the mountain at the Mt. Baker Ski Resort.

"I told everyone I worked with that if I stayed on any longer I was going to go around the state again," said Comstock.

At Mt. Baker he helped develop the Youth Conservation Corps, a program that recruited young, jobless youth and put them to work in the forest.

In 1980 he was transferred to the hardwood forest of southern Illinois. He was involved with the Southern Illinois Tourist Council and helped rebuild the Great River Road that ran from Minnesota to Louisiana parallel with the Mississippi River. He also worked duties as the information officer for large fires for the U.S. Forest Service. He was sent to major fires in California, Washington, Idaho, Yellowstone Park and the Grand Canyon. According to Comstock, this position got him into some precarious situations.

"We were in a little town on the eastern edge of Yellowstone Park," said Comstock. "We were surrounded by the fire, trapped in the town with the news media. I ended up doing a live satellite interview with CNN with the fire raging behind me."

In 1990 the district ranger position for Routt National Forest opened up in Craig. He was hired and was on the job for three years until he retired in 1993. The position of information officer opened up.

"It was originally designed that I would work from March through November," said Comstock. "I was looking for something where I could stay active and contribute to the community."

Since then the responsibilities of the job have grown along with Craig. The position became full-time, year-round. When Comstock first started, the Craig Chamber of Commerce had 150 members there are now 360. Along with the chamber growth, the number of visitors to Craig has grown dramatically.

"It takes a good deal more time," said Comstock. "I would really like to get out more than I do. I have enjoyed the job and doing the public contact work, but I will turn 65 very shortly and when you're sitting here you don't get out to see the things that I want to see."

Throughout his career Comstock has endured floods, forest fires, blizzards and changes in environmental and organizational philosophy. He has run timber sales, built roads, helped establish national forests and inform sportsmen.

After 44 years of working to better the outdoors and informing people about the outdoors, it looks like the time for Comstock to enjoy being on the receiving end of his work.

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