Community profile: Glenwood Springs’ city engineer designs infrastructure with recreation in mind
A dedicated public servant, outdoor enthusiast and engineer, Terri Partch has developed city infrastructure throughout the West for more than 30 years, but Colorado’s Rocky Mountains have always been her home.
“As an engineer, especially in the small towns, it’s amazing to be able to make changes that benefit the public in their everyday lives,” said Partch, the Glenwood Springs city engineer.
After graduating from the University of Colorado Boulder in 1990, Partch’s first job was for the city of San Diego, California, designing drainage systems. She eventually returned to Colorado, where she met her husband at an avalanche safety course.
The couple, both engineers, grew their family as they hopped from mountain town to mountain town.
“We lived in Telluride, Vail and Silverthorne, but we ended up moving out to Port Angeles, Washington, about 60 miles west of Seattle,” she said. “After long, though, we missed the sunshine and mountains, so we came back and settled in Glenwood Springs in 2012.”
With a passion for her work, Partch made an impression with her determination and dedication to the projects she believed would benefit residents most.
“I first met her during the budgeting process, and she wasn’t a department head yet,” City Manager Debra Figueroa said, adding with a chuckle. “She walked into my office with her budget with $17 million in projects for a $2 million fund, looked at me and said, ‘How are we going to get this done?’”
From the get-go, Partch saw the potential within the South Bridge Project to be one of the most important achievements of her career.
“South Bridge has always been in response to the Coal Seam Fire in 2002,” Partch said. “We say that, but I didn’t think that much about it until I had to model evacuation plans for south Glenwood as part of a federal grant application. The planning process really drove home the importance of a southern evacuation route.”
During the Grand Avenue bridge replacement, Figueroa said Partch oversaw the longest sustained detour in U.S. history.
“Through sheer determination, Terri prepared the city as much as she could,” Figueroa said. “She went to meeting after meeting, working in partnership with the Colorado Department of Transportation, the fire department and law enforcement, to prepare parents, ensure kids could walk to school and secure adequate parking in Rifle.”
While the bridge replacement was still a challenging project for the entire valley, Partch worked tirelessly to make sure children would be safe and the detour was as good as it could possibly be, Figueroa said.
Assistant City Engineer Jessica Bowser has worked with Partch for six years and said the experience has taught her a lot.
“Terri has always been very direct about what she wants from someone, and she has an open-door policy, making it easy to approach her about challenges on the job,” Bowser said.
An avid hiker, Partch said she approaches her job with the perspective that infrastructure should benefit everyone, not just the primary users.
“As a person and an engineer, I’ve always had a love of being outdoors and being active,” she explained. “I think that comes through in a lot of projects, because we don’t just think about how a project will look from the inside of a vehicle. It needs to benefit the bicyclists and the pedestrians, too.”
Hitting the trails
One of three women in a graduating class of about 200 engineers, Partch said she owed her career choice to her father.
“My father wanted all of his kids to study engineering, law or medicine,” Partch said.
Born and raised in Denver, Partch is the middle child of three. Her older brother pursued a law career, and her younger brother followed in her footsteps as an engineer.
“My father was happy when I graduated, but he always had high expectations of his kids, so it was more like it was to be expected,” she said.
A mother of three, Partch said she spends most of her time outside of work exploring the outdoors with her family.
“We’ve been taking our kids hiking since my youngest son was an infant,” Partch said. “One of our biggest outings is a family backpacking trip every year. We usually hike about 30 miles over the course of 4-5 days, camping along the way.”
As a teenager, Partch discovered a love for cross-country running — a passion that has followed her throughout life.
“Our coach would take us up to Breckenridge, and we would run Argentine Pass,” she said. “It was challenging and always beautiful.”
Until recently, Partch, 54, ran trails on a near daily basis, but her knees are not as young as they once were, and after two knee surgeries, Partch said she now runs only once every couple of weeks.
“My most recent surgery was Monday — a knee replacement,” she said. “I’m hopeful it will help me get back to running more often than not.”
With retirement on the horizon, Partch said her family loves Glenwood Springs and would like to stay, but with the rising cost of living, she’s not sure it’s financially viable.
Before she turns out the light in her engineering office for the last time, Partch said she has a couple of goals in mind.
“In the next five years?” she asked, mulling the question over in quiet contemplation. “I would like to complete the South Bridge and make meaningful progress toward our community evacuation plan.”
Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at email@example.com.
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