Kris Holinka says 20+ years with Colorado Parks and Wildlife perfect for an ‘adrenaline junkie’
Holinka thanks the public for the many friendships created over the years
When Kris Holinka took a call for an interview about her retirement from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, she wasn’t sitting in an office — she was on the water at Shadow Mountain Lake doing boat training checks with new Parks and Wildlife officers. She was role-playing as if she was an angler, as the new officers learned how to approach a boat, announce themselves and check for fishing licenses — all the things they would do during a law enforcement check.
This was just another “day at the office” for Holinka, who is retiring on Aug. 31 after serving the public in one capacity or another for over 30 years, including the emergency medical field.
“With all the different jobs I’ve done, the basis is wanting to help people and keep the community safe; there’s definitely a rush that comes with that,” Holinka said. “I’m kind of an adrenaline junkie.”
Holinka started helping the residents of Grand County in 1990, when she became a volunteer firefighter with the East Grand Fire Department. She enjoyed being a firefighter, but felt like it was only half the story of assisting those during emergencies.
“I felt like I’d helped people as far as I could as a fireman, but didn’t know what happened to them after we put them in the ambulance,” she said. “It felt incomplete. I wondered, ‘what ever happened to that person?’ I wanted to feel like I’d finished everything from beginning to end.”
After three years as a firefighter, she decided to start EMT training. Altogether, she worked as a firefighter for 13 years and EMT for a decade. Her role helping others in the emergency medical field inspired her to become a 911 dispatcher.
“Helping the public was really high on my list of interests. This (dispatching) position opened up. Several of the officers I worked with at the time told me I should apply,” she said.
From 1996 to 2000, she worked as a dispatcher, which she found both strenuous and rewarding.
“You could be sitting there with it all nice and quiet, then all of sudden, all heck would break loose. It could get pretty intense real quick,” she said.
Holinka was on the frontlines to keep fellow residents safe. She added that although dispatching in a rural county wasn’t busy 24/7 like it would be in a city, another element was involved.
“So many times, you are talking to … a community member you know that just got in an accident, so it’s a different type of stress,” she said.
Holinka also wanted to help others learn this challenging job, so she became an emergency medical dispatch instructor.
“I taught all of our dispatchers throughout the state and some sheriff’s office and (police department) dispatchers,” she said.
In 2000, she pursued a new career. When the State Patrol office moved from Hot Sulphur to Craig, Holinka and her husband had the choice either to transfer to Craig or find another job. They didn’t want to leave Grand County. Luckily, an administrative assistant position with Colorado Parks and Wildlife opened up at just the right time.
“That started a whole new adventure,” she said of her role, which she’s held for over 20 years. “That’s one thing with this job, I never know what I’m going to do on a day-to-day basis.”
Holinka enjoys the fact that her role is not a traditional 9 to 5 in the office. Her favorite part of working with Parks and Wildlife has been getting out in the field to handle wildlife.
“I got to do a bear study in the early 2000s and handle the bears themselves. We were trapping them and taking their biological information. That was definitely a highlight,” she said.
In another project, Holinka was able put bear cubs in a den so they could successfully finish out their hibernation. She’s also enjoyed reintroducing wildlife to the open spaces of Grand. She’s helped relocate pronghorn antelope, turkeys and sharp-tailed grouse. She’s also dealt with moose when they came into close contact with humans, such as when a moose was hit by a car, or got trapped in a home.
“I’ve gone out to help get them out of a basement or something like that, trailer them, and release them to a safer spot,” Holinka said.
She is especially proud of Parks and Wildlife’s wildlife crossing project on Colorado Highway 9. In 2016, the agency helped construct a first-of-its-kind wildlife overpass and underpass crossing system between Kremmling and Green Mountain Reservoir. This resulted in a 90% reduction in wildlife collisions.
“People would call upset because they saw (an animal) get hit or hit it themselves, and we don’t have many of those calls anymore,” Holinka said. “That’s been a very positive impact to the community and wildlife.”
Grand County is a sportsperson’s paradise, so Holinka has also worked one-on-one with hunters. She completes mandatory checks for hunters’ kills, ages the animals, collects horn and antler measurements and more.
“The hunters come in and they’re so excited about a once-in-a-lifetime hunt they’ve just done … it’s fun to be a part of that,” Holinka said. “It’s very rewarding to get the biological information from those animals to continue their population in a healthy way.”
From the hunters’ checks, she’s handled a diverse number of species, including mountain lions, black bears, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and bobcats.
“I’ve been fortunate to lay my hands on a lot of these animals (both living and dead) over years,” she said.
Holinka admits that dentistry is not her strong suit, but she has extracted teeth from game animals to age them accurately, then sent that information in to the state laboratory to monitor the population.
Parks and wildlife is also entrusted with keeping animals healthy, especially deer and elk populations.
“With chronic wasting disease, we have to take lymph nodes out of these animals and send it in for testing,” she said.
She added her career at Parks and Wildlife allowed her to assist the community in a different way than emergency services did. She helps landowners, hunters and residents co-exist with the nature around them.
“One thing is showing (people) compassion when they made mistakes, like accidentally shot a wrong animal,” Holinka said. “Some wanted to give up hunting forever. But it doesn’t make you a bad person, it just means you made a mistake. And if you’ve learned from it, that’s the take home.”
Holinka also cherishes the successful moments she’s shared with hunters.
“I’ve met hunters from literally around the world. I’ve been able to help make their hunt enjoyable, and a memory they can take home with them. That’s been amazing,” she said.
Holinka once helped three generations of a family with their hunt. It was the grandfather’s last trip because he was terminally ill with cancer. The grandfather, father and grandson all came out to make the hunt the best one they could.
“This kind of stuff in my career has become very special to me … my ranchers, landowners, hunters and fishermen — those are the people who helped contribute to who I am,” Holinka said.
She has traveled to schools to teach students, from kindergarten to seniors, about wildlife.
“When I’m out in the community, kids see me (and say), “Hey, you’re the lady with all the furs that came to my school!’” Holinka said. “The outreach and connection I’ve had with the public has been widespread through the entire county.”
Holinka wants to give a shout-out to the people she’s worked with who have made her time with Parks and Wildlife a rewarding career, including volunteers, interns, office workers, district wildlife managers and biologists.
“Every single one of them has a special place in my heart,” Holinka said. “There’s relationships I’ve made through work where we are now friends.”
To celebrate the end of her chapter in public service and thank fellow community members, Holinka is holding a retirement party on Sunday, Aug. 28 at the Icebox in Fraser. Everyone in the community is invited to the party, which will be from 9 a.m. to noon. The Fraser River Valley Lions Club will offer a pancake breakfast, with the proceeds from the event benefitting the Lions Club.
“This community really helped mold who I am, and this job was a big part of that,” Holinka said, reflecting on her last week with the agency. “There’s so many people out there to thank for helping me.”
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