EVANSTON — Community members are shocked and grieving after retired longtime Forest Service ranger — and husband of State Sen. Wendy Schuler —Rick Schuler was found dead Monday morning. Schuler, by all accounts, died doing something he loved — riding his mountain bike at Bear River State Park, on trails that might not have ever been built had it not been for Schuler’s efforts, along with his well-built and vigorously-maintained relationships with local leaders and organizations.
The Uinta County Sheriff’s Office responded shortly after a 10:19 a.m. call that an unresponsive man had been found at the park next to a bicycle on the trail system located on the southeast side of the park. First responders were unable to resuscitate Schuler, Sgt. Brooke Hale told the Herald in an email.
“There were no obvious signs of trauma or injury observed to Rick’s body,” Hale said. “The coroner was contacted, and Rick’s body was turned over to their personnel.”
A Facebook post by Josh Walker, Schuler’s nephew, addressing friends and family indicates Schuler experienced a “cardiac event.” Walker confirmed to the Herald that he had made the post and his aunt, Wendy Schuler, had asked him to post the information.
Sen. Wendy Schuler said the tragedy hasn’t changed her immediate political plans.
“Even though the election is not on my mind at all,” she wrote to the Herald Thursday morning, “I will carry on because I know that’s what Rick would want.”
Paco Swauger of BRORA (Bear River Outdoor Recreation Alliance) said Schuler’s sudden and unexpected death has left a hole in the community and the hearts of many.
“Over the years, he’s just been so helpful to our family and everyone out there is going to miss him terribly,” Swauger said. “It’s not just a loss for us, but for so many people. He’s a wonderful human being. It’s just a bummer.”
Swauger testified to Schuler’s part in making the Rio Oso trails at the park — and countless other projects — what they are today.
“He was very instrumental in helping develop the Rio Oso trail system, with BRORA and the yurts and with all the work we did up in the Uintas,” Swauger said. “And he is surely going to be missed — we’ve missed him since his retirement.”
Schuler retired less than two years ago, on Dec. 31, 2020, after a 40-year career with the Forest Service. An avid outdoorsman, Schuler said shortly after retiring that his favorite part of his four-decade career was the 30 years he spent in the field, as opposed to the 10 years he felt like a “professional meeting attendee.”
Swauger pointed out that the State Park trails are not, of course, part of Forest Service jurisdiction. But that didn’t stop Schuler — or even slow him down — from making things happen. He worked with his employer to allow other organizations to use Forest Service equipment — and even employees at times — for local projects.
“That probably wouldn’t have happened if there was someone else in charge at the time,” Swauger said. “Rick saw an opportunity to do good for the community and allowed some of his crew to come down and help develop a [trail] system. Rick was very instrumental in doing that — doing anything he could do to help promote recreation.”
Schuler’s “professional meeting attendee” role, as much as he wanted to be outside, was a benefit to many, and facilitated long and fruitful relationships with local officials.
Uinta County Commissioner Eric South said he’s known Schuler for many years, but more so over the past seven and a half years since serving as commissioner.
“Rick came to commission work sessions on a yearly basis,” South said. “He shared with us what was going on in the local forests. Rick was responsible for large amounts of timber sales on the Wasatch Forest, which benefited local sawmills that employ many people in the area. It also helped watershed for our area.”
“Rick was one of a kind,” South added, “and will be missed by all that knew him.”
Evanston Mayor Kent Williams echoed that sentiment.
“I fear we may not have another like him,” Williams said.
The mayor also praised Schuler’s impact on the community and local recreation.
“Rick Schuler has, for many years, been a friend and an important advocate for our county and communities as it relates most especially to federal lands and uses,” Williams said. “His constant willingness to listen to concerns and look for workable solutions to a variety of issues with government officials, ranchers, agriculture users and recreational interests has been refreshing. He was an active and integral member of our community and I personally will miss him. My thoughts and prayers are with Wendy and all the Schuler family.”
One of many volunteer roles Schuler held was on the board of directors for the Evanston Parks and Recreation District (EPRD) for 20 years, where he served as treasurer.
As the district’s business manager, Marilee Jackson said she worked very closely with Schuler.
“He was a great board member,” she told the Herald. “After (former director) Dennis Poppinga left, Rick was our history — he remembered everything. And he truly cared about the employees of Evanston Parks and Rec.”
Jackson said Schuler played crucial roles in the district’s yurts in the Uintas along with many other projects.
“The rec center takes care of the yurts and BRORA does all the maintenance and on-the-ground work,” Jackson said, “and the Forest Service owns the property, so we couldn’t do anything without Rick; he was integral.”
Upon retirement, Jackson said Schuler informed the parks and rec board that he planned to resign from the board as well. He eventually did, about six months later, but “in true Rick fashion,” Jackson said, “he made sure we had a good replacement and a good partner.”
Schuler’s work to promote and enhance outdoor recreation continued, however, long after his parks and rec resignation. Schuler is a founding member of Southwest Wyoming Off-road Trails and served on its board.
SWOT president and Herald publisher Mark Tesoro said Schuler was responsible for all of the trails in the Uinta Mountains. So, when Tesoro decided to organize a nonprofit to form a trail system in southwest Wyoming, he knew where to turn.
“Rick was the first person I called about helping put together SWOT,” Tesoro said. “He and Wendy jumped on board immediately. He was the driving force behind the inception of all the motorized trails in the Uintas over the past four decades. Through his numerous years on the Wyoming State Trails Council and connections at the Forest Service, he helped launch the biggest recreation-based economic development project for the state in decades. He told me he’d wanted to make a trails connection from the forest to the communities for 20 years, but could never find the right partner.”
As the first two SWOT members, Tesoro and Schuler spent hours upon hours together planning and meeting with officials across the state.
“His presence, leadership and friendship will be truly missed,” Tesoro said.
According to Schuler’s obituary, which can be found on page A4, funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at Davis Middle School. Viewings will be from 6-8 p.m. Friday at Davis Middle School and 10 a.m. Saturday, also at DMS.