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The Colorado Search and Rescue Association (CSAR) hired their first full-time executive director on October 28, 2021, tapping current president Jeff Sparhawk to fill the role. 

“Jeff’s selection by the CSAR board of directors seems a natural choice,” said CSAR Vice President Pat Caulfield. “His leadership over the last four years has resulted in statewide recognition for backcountry search and rescue teams as a critical part of the first responder community, and the recognition that our member teams provide an indispensable service to the residents of and visitors to Colorado.”

Jeff Sparhawk, current CSAR president, and newly hired executive director, addresses the group at an avalanche rescue training on March 11, 2021. Photo by Hannah Harn

The position marks the next step in CSAR’s ongoing push to develop more sustainable systems for backcountry search and rescue (BSAR) in Colorado. In 2019, CSAR backed the passage of a bill mandating the study of BSAR by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). Though delayed by COVID-19, the bill was reintroduced this year and was signed into law in June, 2021.

Senate Bill 21-245 provides funding for a pilot program in stress injury training for volunteer rescuers and commissions research on options for improved worker compensation, long-term mental health benefits, out-of-pocket expense reimbursement for volunteers, and retirement benefits. 

Having a full-time executive director is intended to support continued forward progress in these efforts, supporting the low-cost volunteer model for BSAR.

“In addition to our humanitarian services, we are part of Colorado’s outdoor recreation economy.  Our communities and our recreation economy rely on backcountry search and rescue,” says Sparhawk. “It’s time for us to take a serious look at our current system and proactively evolve so we will be able to better adapt to the changing needs of Colorado.”

Sparhawk worked closely with legislators on SB 21-245. An attorney, Sparhawk has 12 years of private practice experience centered on nonprofit law, small business transactional matters, trust and estate planning, and entity formation, as well as over 30 years of experience as a volunteer rescuer with Rocky Mountain Rescue Group and a handler with Front Range Rescue Dogs. He has served on CSAR’s board for nearly eight years and has spent the past four as president. 

“Jeff has dedicated significant personal time and energy to raising awareness of the new challenges our Colorado search and rescue teams are facing – from increased and more complicated calls for rescue to long term funding issues to healthcare and mental health support for search and rescue volunteers,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “Jeff is the right person for the job as Colorado search and rescue teams rise to these new challenges and Coloradans are recreating in our outdoors – and getting lost or needing rescue assistance – in record numbers.”