Collins has seen changes upriver

Joe Collins, longtime rancher and county commissioner, has mixed feelings about housing developments upriver, but his passion for the area remains as strong as ever.

Joe Collins, longtime rancher and county commissioner, has mixed feelings about housing developments upriver, but his passion for the area remains as strong as ever.
MEEKER I In his 72 years, Joe Collins has seen some big changes upriver.
“This used to be a community within itself, where we were all neighbors,” said Collins, who grew up on ranches his parents managed upriver.
The transition of upriver properties from small working ranches and summer cabins to multi-millionaire homes has been the cost of development.
“That has to happen,” Collins said. “I don’t necessarily agree with some of it. I’ve got mixed emotions.”
One of the upriver property owners Collins’ parents worked for was the Roosevelt family. Elliot Roosevelt, son of the late President Franklin and his wife, Eleanor, was married to Minnewa Bell, whose father, Alphonzo, had the property upriver. He called it the Bar Bell Ranch, after his ranching brand. Minnewa inherited the ranch after her father died.
“I grew up with that family,” Collins said of the Roosevelts. “Eleanor, she was so good to people in this valley. They were liberal people (the Roosevelts), but Eleanor was a wonderful lady and was always good to us. In college, I roomed with FDR’s grandson, Tony. We’re still friends.
“My dad managed the ranch that is now owned by Henry Kravis (called Westlands),” Collins said. “I grew up on that ranch. Minnewa Bell gave us some land for my folks when they retired. That’s the house I grew up in.”
Collins, who was born in 1938, attended the first and second grades in a one-room schoolhouse upriver called Miller Creek.
“There were just three students in the whole school and the teacher,” Collins said. “I’m the only one alive.”
He then attended Mesa School, riding a horse and buggy to school.
Collins was in the first class to be graduated from Meeker High School in 1956.
With all of the changes upriver he’s witnessed over the years, Collins, who manages Wakara Ranches, is still as passionate about the area as he was when he was growing up.
“I’m so lucky to have grown up here,” he said. “I thank God for my mom and dad. My family has been here (in Rio Blanco County) for 100 some years. I never get tired of it (the scenery upriver). If we ever get to the point where we take this thing for granted, we’re in trouble.”