Stewart brings drive to Carbondale chamber |

Stewart brings drive to Carbondale chamber

Andrea Stewart (right) and fellow Carbondale Chamber of Commerce Board member Kelcey Nichols at the Ride the Rockies welcome party in downtown Carbondale.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent |

Young and driven, Andrea Stewart took a chance and followed her soon-to-be husband to the Roaring Fork Valley eight years ago.

But she found her skill set was perfectly suited for her job. She’s now executive director of the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce at only 31 years old. She’s about to celebrate her eighth year at the chamber, with this weekend’s launch of Ride the Rockies and feather in her cap.

Stewart was born and raised in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and grew up with a strong Western heritage. Her childhood home was right across the street from the world’s largest outdoor rodeo, Cheyenne Frontier Days.

Her parents were both heavily involved in the rodeo, modeling the kind of community volunteerism and ability to pull off big projects from behind the scenes that Stewart would become known for.

Stewart said she did much of her growing up on the rodeo grounds.

She also has a solid sports background, in which her father was a big influence.

To her it was completely normal that her family woke up early on the weekends to drive her father out of town so he could run back. In the winter, when he’d finally make it to the house, his snow cap would be frozen to his head and he’d have to let it thaw out to remove it, she said.

She ran her first 5-kilometer race with her father when she was 6.

In these early years, she was strictly focused on a few traditional high school sports, running track and cross country and playing basketball.

Stewart said she never skied, never touched a ski boot, until she moved to western Colorado after college. One of her basketball coaches even threatened to kick anyone off the team that he caught doing a sport other than what they’d signed up for.

After high school she went to the University of Wyoming, finishing her communications degree a year early. “But I wasn’t quite ready to join the real world.”

So she stuck around for another year and picked up a couple of marketing minors, one emphasizing public relations and the other advertising.

Throughout college she worked as a coordinator at the university’s recreation department and got an early start organizing events. She also interned with the university’s athletic department for four years, which landed her a job as the school’s marketing coordinator after she graduated.

Much like her parents, Stewart said she liked “being the doer behind the scenes.”

In Laramie, she started dating the man who’s now her husband. Danny Stewart, from Rangley, an avid outdoor enthusiast and backcountry skier.

He got the opportunity to move back to western Colorado in 2008 to work as a civil engineer at SGM.

She needed to find work and tried her hand in a tourism and marketing position at the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce.

To learn more about the tourism industry she got an associate’s degree at Colorado Mountain College in resort management and hospitality.

Stewart’s beginning at the chamber was also the beginning of a tanking economy.

The organization would have to get creative to deal with a drop in tourism.

The number of chamber members dropped from about 500 to about 400 during the recession, she said.

But working through this tough time, Stewart came out on top. After the chamber went through some personnel reorganization, she took the interim director position in 2012. She was appointed full-time director later that year.

Now, to a large degree, Stewart is the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce. When she started the organization had four full-time employees, but now she’s the only one. The chamber does have two part-time employees for bookkeeping and marketing.

Now in a time of recovery, the organization is back up to about 475 members, she said.

Stewart keeps working behind the scenes to the keep the wheels turning on many of the community’s big events and partnerships.

“My job description is blank,” said Stewart. Wednesday she was meeting with the new director of the Colorado Tourism Office; Thursday she delivered and setting up tents, port-a-potties and trash haulers for Ride the Rockies.

She says her job is “glitz and glamour to dirt and dust.”

Her athletic upbringing would play well when she was tasked with marketing Carbondale, an outdoor recreationalist’s Mecca. But the outdoor sports, she found, were at a different caliber than what she’d seen.

In the last eight years she’s dabbled in a variety of mountain sports. “There’s never been an option out here to not ski. It’s just a question of whether you ski or snowboard.”

But running is still the sport that’s in her blood, and in the last few years she’s pushed that passion to a new level. After her son was born in 2013 she started talking with some friends about running. She was still running several miles on a daily basis, but Stewart had never completed a marathon or half-marathon.

In 2014 she ran her first half-marathon in Moab, and she got a better time than she’d expected.

Later she ran another half-marathon in Steamboat and took second place in her age division. She continued to train that summer and joined a friend who was trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

They ran a marathon together that August in Denver, and to her surprise, Stewart qualified for Boston by 11 minutes.

In preparation she ran another full marathon in Phoenix while her husband and his grandfather ran the half-marathon. At 85 years old, the grandfather finished the half. Stewart said his goal is to run the New York Marathon at age 90.

In April 2015, two years after terrorists bombed the Boston finish line, Stewart was running the rainy streets of Boston with security guards lining the entire 26 miles and snipers on the rooftops glassing the streets below.

The day was about 40 degrees and runners were battling 20 mph wind gusts, giving the race a real “guts and glory feeling,” she said.

That family drive seems to have worked its way through the gene pool because Stewart’s already seeing an adventurous streak in her 3-year-old, Lucas, who wants to run like his mom and join in snow sports with his dad.

Carbondale sits on a unique edge between work and play; “we work hard so we can play harder,” she said.

“It’s why we’re here.”

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