31st annual Meeker Classic sheepdog trials start Sept. 6

Wary, these sheep watch closely as a sheepdog circles around.

MEEKER | There’s always something new happening at the Meeker Classic Sheepdog Championship Trials and this year is no exception. There are new workshops, a photography competition to complement the annual art contest, and a whole new take on the lamb cook-off.
In its 31st year, the Meeker Classic continues to find innovative ways to entertain and interact with visitors and the community for which it’s named. The competition begins Wednesday, Sept. 6 at 7 a.m. at Ute Park, and continues through Sunday at 4 p.m., when one of the dog and handler teams will be awarded the first place prize.
“This community makes everybody feel welcome,” said Classic director Maym Cunningham. This year they intend to bring more focus to the downtown corridor after the sheepdogs and their masters do their work at Ute Park.
“Last year was a hard year with the courthouse construction downtown.” This year, the Classic hopes to bring more focus to “downtown businesses and local people.” In addition, new educational workshops are intended to build the event’s reputation as a cultural festival for the region.
The art contest is a perennial favorite of the trials, with the winning artwork selected as the next year’s marketing poster. Those posters are considered collectible items for many fans. This year, in addition to the art contest, there will be a photography contest division with cash awards for the winners. Photographer Dale Hallebach is the photography juror and artist Andy Goettel is the art contest juror. Contest submissions are currently on exhibit at the Meeker Library.
The art and photography reception will be held Thursday, Sept. 7 at the Wilber Barn at Ute Park from 5-7 p.m., with hors d’oeuvres and refreshments provided by local restauranteurs.
On Friday, Blanco Cellars and The Little Cheese Shop will host an Art, Wine and Cheese evening at Smoking River Art Gallery from 6-9 p.m. The Little Cheese Shop will be at the trials site Friday and Saturday with free tastings of sheep cheese as well.
One of the more popular events of the Classic is the lamb cook-off. This year the event takes a new tack, moving downtown and picking up as the Jammin’ Lamb festival from 4-8 p.m. Saturday. The festival is a culinary competition featuring some professional chefs and some locals and friends of the Meeker Classic. Lamb cooked by the competitors will be served in addition to side dishes provided by the Lions Club and desserts provided by Jeff Rector and Mona Avey. Tickets are $10 at the event and will benefit the Old West Heritage Culture Center and the Meeker Lions Club. Live music and a beer garden are part of the Jammin’ Lamb festival.
Attendees can also enjoy the annual lamb barbecue on Sunday at 12 p.m., hosted and prepared by the Rio Blanco County Wool Growers Association.
The Classic has always included educational components—from teaching people about the work of the border collie to demonstrations of wool spinning. This year, once again, some 700 schoolchildren from northwest Colorado will attend the Trials for free, with a visit to the White River Museum included. Educational programs and exhibits include sniffer dogs, Celtic music and story telling, a presentation on livestock guardians, dog agility demonstrations, animal assisted dog therapy teams, sports medicine for dogs, Navajo weaving demonstrations, pottery, leatherwork and saddlemaking, and western hat history and care tips, among others. Check out an 1800s sheep wagon, and compare it to a modern version.
New this year are fee-based workshops, including three daily photography classes (Wednesday through Friday) with professional photographer Adam Jahiel at the Trials site, a writing workshop Saturday from 8-11 a.m. downtown with author Cat Urbigkit, and wool felting and needle felting classes with Kimberly Gamba. All skill levels are welcome to attend any of the workshop classes, but you must pre-register as space is limited. Visit meekersheepdog.com/workshops-classes/ to register online and get details about the instructors.
Economic impact surveys indicate the Meeker Classic directly brings between $800,000 and $900,000 into the local economy each year. Secondary funds aren’t measured. Visitors stay an average of 2.5 days when they attend.
With between 300 and 350 mostly local volunteers every year, the event is dependent on—and grateful for—the participation of area residents.
“We will take any volunteers any time,” Cunningham said. Volunteers receive a five-day pass, a $15 to $40 savings.
Local residents receive a 20 percent discount on a five-day pass. Sales end Sept. 6. One day passes are also available. Tickets are available at the Meeker Chamber, at Wendll’s and online at meekersheepdog.com/ get-tickets/. Type “LOCAL” into the promotional code for the 20 percent discounted rate.