Local development forum eyes growth for Meeker
The Rio Blanco Citizens for Economic Development hosted the event, which was kicked off by Kelli Hepler, the agri-tourism director for Delta County, who explained that the original premise of that group was to make Delta County a “place where people want to stop.”
“We have Aspen on one side of us and Telluride on the other, and we wanted people traveling through here to stop on their way to one of those other resorts,” she said.
“We received $6,000 from the county and some state funds, and we are doing quite well now in slowing people down who head through here because we have wine, mines, the arts, farming/ranching, wildlife and history to promote,” she said. “We are now at a point where 2 percent of the money going into the county coffers comes from promoting those activities in our community.”
Asked how Delta County was able to turn the economy around, she pointed out first that Colorado is the only state in the nation with an agri-heritage tourism fund, and that the fund is taken from unclaimed taxes around the state.
Hepler said the key is to get the word out, using all forms of communications and marketing.
“We only have 600 beds in Delta County, so we really have to work to book those rooms at any given time,” she said. “We got together with the mines in the area, government officials and entities that made up agri-tourism, like vineyards and farmers/ranchers in the area, and those three groups are the top employers in the area.
“We sat down and discussed how we could come together and pull people in, and the mines thought of giving tours, the government has bent over backward to back us and the vineyards are offering tours and wine tastings while the farmers and ranchers are opening their farms and ranches to the public, and we have found out that there are a lot of people who don’t really know where their food or meat comes from,” Hepler said.
“Meeker has a great, varied and colorful history, its wildlife is well-known as top quality, it has incredible scenery and it has some of the friendliest folks around,” she said. “Each one of those things is a way to increase travel through here.”
The key, she said, is to get the information out to folks on the Front Range because those residents do a lot of traveling around the state, and to get the local information out with more businesses than just the chamber of commerce or the White River Museum.
“Every business in town should be carrying the maps to the walking tour of in-town historic sites, off-site historical places, and carry the brochures about area hunting or pack-trip or jeep tours, information about what businesses are in town and a listing of the variety of restaurants here in Meeker as well as a calendar of major events,” she said. “Marketing and getting the word out are absolutely everything to drawing people here.”
Gary Zellers, president of the Meeker Arts and Cultural Committee (MACC), said, “We need money coming into our communities, otherwise the dollar is worn out and doesn’t add anything if that dollar started in town, is taxed at every transaction and then it just disappears.
“We need bodies to carry out these plans, and that has been our problem for quite some time,” he said. “We are a bunch of people without great financial resources, and we need a face for these groups.”
Zellers said MACC already has several events planned, including the second annual Meekerpalooza, but that it would really be a great benefit to have a Meeker Arts and Cultural Center that “offers classical music, perhaps country or rock concerts, arts shows, cultural events and even have alcohol available for attendees to enjoy during the activities.”
The other major topic of the meeting was the possibility of bringing broadband communications to Rio Blanco County’s residents.
Dick Welle, the former general manager of White River Electric Association, who is still involved with a community/countywide group formed to look at ways to improve conditions and multiple resources within Rio Blanco County, said there is already broadband in the county at the sheriff’s office, town law enforcement, the hospitals and other key locations.
“However the problem, the cost and a major investment will come with in-town infrastructure along the streets in the town,” he said, adding that the next question after that is who is going to extend the lines to the actual residences like had to be done with the original telephone lines.
“This is not a cheap project and I know the WREA isn’t in the telecommunications business,” Welle said. “But some entity is going to have to gamble that the major expense of extending the fiber optics to each business and residence will pay off.
“We are also looking at some help from the state that could drop the price and make it more affordable and viable,” he said, adding that at this time there is no known timeframe when that might happen.
Ellene Meece, president of the Rio Blanco County Historical Society, said there is lots of information available at the museums in the county.
“There is a lot of information to get out about all of the county’s pretty incredible history, and we will just have to get it out around the state and draw the attention of those interested in Colorado history,” she said. “State historic tourism is thriving all around Colorado, and we have to get Meeker better noticed.”
Bob Amick reported that History Colorado came to Meeker in the fall and did a complete survey of the town’s historic locations.
“We are hoping for approval of the designation of downtown Meeker as a historic destination,” Amick said. “With this we would be able to rework the interiors of our buildings, do some work on the exteriors and improve some of the horrible wiring and eliminate some of the dangerous coal chutes in these buildings.
“We could then open much wider the opportunities for historic tours, which will also bring a lot of people to Meeker.” he said.