On a tour of the city of Eau Claire in 1985, Darryl Tufte gazed down over the bridges he was crossing and noted something strange.
The banks of the rivers were stacked with worn out industrial buildings, a stark contrast to the strong trail system and urban development propped up along the Boise River he was about to leave behind in Idaho.
“In my mind, I thought this community had a lot of potential to take advantage of its rivers,” Tufte recalled thinking as he interviewed for a planning position with the city of Eau Claire.
As Tufte, 62, leaves behind a 33-year career with the city for retirement, his impact can be noted along the trails that bloom next to the waterways and in myriad contributions city staff members say have been marked by Tufte’s attention to detail and prowess for planning.
“He is just a master at involving people, having a good discussion and getting people’s ideas down,” said Councilwoman and Plan Commission member Kathy Mitchell. “We’re really going to miss him.”
Senior planner Pat Ivory, who has worked with Tufte throughout his career, said Tufte helped strengthen standards and guidelines when reviewing potential development.
“That leads to better physical appearance of the city and a better quality of life,” Ivory said. “A lot of that comes from more detailed site plan reviews that provide better amenities that we see every day as we’re going through the neighborhoods.”
As an Eau Claire employee, Tufte worked first as a city planner, then head of inspections and planning and now as director of community development.
He oversees the economic development division, of which Downtown Eau Claire Inc. is a part, as well as the housing authority. He directs comprehensive planning, building inspections and drafting codes.
Ivory said Tufte’s knack for leadership was evident in the effect he had on his staff.
“He had a calming influence on the employees within the department,” Ivory said. “The morale was real high with him working here; he’s been a good boss, and we’ll definitely miss having him around here.”
With Tufte’s help, the city embarked on creating city comprehensive plans that set policies for the city’s growth and development, and some of those plans even won awards at the state level.
“He’s been a champion of planning and of planned growth,” said city Manager Dale Peters.
Ivory also noted Tufte’s advocacy for comprehensive plans and cited development of the riverfront and trail system as an outgrowth of his penchant for planning.
“When he came, even the concept of a riverfront trail or greenway wasn’t in the plans,” Ivory said. “That all came from his background.”
Originally from North Dakota, Tufte earned his bachelor’s degree in geology and a master’s degree in city planning.
Early on, he almost left Eau Claire for a city planning position in Rochester, Minn.; he came in second for the job. He would have taken that career path if he’d been offered the choice, as he and his wife planned for years to move to Minnesota.
“After a few years of living here, we thought this is a nice community, and we started raising kids,” he said. “Now we’re going to stay for the rest of our lives.
“We made a really good decision,” he said.
Tufte plans to spend the first year of his retirement traveling, with trips planned to Branson, Mo., Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and out West.
No replacement has yet been chosen for Tufte, though the interview process is set to begin soon.
“He’s an all-around great guy, and we’re certainly going to miss having him part of our management team,” Peters said.
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