Volunteers make Meeker’s sheepdog trials a Classic

BurkheadImageUseThisOneMeeker’s sheepdog trials ended Sunday, but the work didn’t.
“Breakdown is almost as busy as the days of the trial,” said director Ellen Nieslanik, who took a few minutes to chat Tuesday, in between hauling grandstands.
This was Nieslanik’s fifth year as director of the event, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2011.
“Overall, I think the trials went as smoothly as ever,” she said. “We had a few little adjustments along the way, but from the gate, to the parking, to the set-out, to the handlers, it went very smoothly. Everybody did their job.”
And when you have a five-day event, there are plenty of jobs to do.
“We had close to 40 new volunteers this year,” said Nieslanik, who was a volunteer herself for many years before taking over as director.
One of those people who had volunteered at the trials — the late Gene Scritchfield — was honored during this year’s event. The Meeker Classic program was dedicated to Gene, who was killed in a tractor accident last October at the age of 38. The Meeker Classic also established a memorial scholarship in Gene’s name.
Nieslanik said Gene epitomized the volunteer spirit that is essential to the success of the Meeker Classic.
“He just exemplified what people in this community will do,” Nieslanik said. “He gave of himself, not only to the Meeker Classic, but to everything. Volunteerism is at risk in this electronic age … but not here in Meeker.”
This year’s event winner — Amanda Milliken of Kingston, Ontario, Canada — is another example of someone who has helped out whenever needed.
“She’s always been willing to help,” Nieslanik said. “She even announced the Meeker Classic one year, as well as being a competitor.”
Milliken has been a regular at the classic.
“I think this was her 20th year,” Nieslanik said. “She’s always been a contender, but she had never won, so this was nice.”
Milliken won with her dog, Ethel, who is 10.
“She’s an amazing dog,” Nieslanik said. “But you wonder how many more years she can go. She will probably retire. That’s about the upper limit of the age of dogs that compete here.”
Winning the Meeker Classic is never an easy task, regardless of the age of the handler’s dog.
“All of the stars have to be in alignment,” Nieslanik said. “This event continues to morph, but the one common denominator is the sheep are hard and tough and it is so competitive.”
While attendance figures for this year’s event weren’t known yet, Nieslanik said she expected the numbers to be good.
“I can tell you that the parking lot on Saturday and Sunday far exceeded what it had been in the last three or four years. We were completely full,” Nieslanik said. “Wednesday and Thursday may have been a little down, but the school kids were here Friday, and that was the biggest day we’ve had of school kids.”
Nieslanik said the economy could’ve had something to do with the better attendance at this year’s Meeker Classic.
“I think the recession has changed the demographic of our spectators. We call them our daytrippers, people who can come and go in a day. That’s where we focused our promotion,” she said. “We still have those destination people, who come every year, but this is a great, fairly inexpensive trip for a young family to take.”
Local businesses also benefit from the people who are in town to attend the sheepdog trials.
“Everyone I’ve talked to just had a bang-up week,” Nieslanik said.
With the 25th anniversary of the event just two years away, Nieslanik said the Meeker Classic has stayed true to its original mission.
“We’re an educational and an agricultural organization. We were set up as an event that would teach people our cultural heritage and the importance even now of stock-dog herding,” Nieslanik said. “It’s more than just a dog trial. It’s an event. Of course, there’s the dog trials, but it’s a great venue to educate people and share the story of rural America and to showcase something that was already here. That’s what Gus (Halandras) and crew had envisioned 25 years ago. The challenge is to keep that up.”
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Ian Poole was back in Meeker for a couple of weeks, before returning to Fort Drum, N.Y., where he is with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division.
Ian, who is 19, will be deployed to Iraq around Oct. 12.
“He’ll go to Iraq initially, then the understanding is that they will go to Afghanistan, they just don’t know when,” said his mother, Julianne Belland. “A lot of that will be based on need.”
Ian began his basic training in August 2008. His deployment is for 15 months.
“He’s really had a positive experience (serving in the military),” Julianne said. “It was a good choice for him.”
He’s also made his family proud.
“We’re incredibly proud of him. We’re thankful he has made the choice to protect this country, as I reflect on it today of all days,” Julianne said during a phone interview Sept. 11. “I think it takes an incredibly brave person to put on that uniform and defend our country.”
Julianne said even though Ian “will be on the front lines,” she trusted he would be OK.
“We’re not fearful, because he’s truly in God’s hands,” she said. “I don’t know what else you do. You just take it one day at a time.”
Ian’s grandparents Julius and Lomell Poole live in Rangely.
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The various groups involved in the road project for the new elementary school in Meeker met last week to discuss the design of the new Ute Road.
“(The) discussion was invaluable to the Board of Trustees in making the decision regarding the design and placement of Ute Road,” said Mayor Mandi Etheridge. “As a board, we have had significant public response, but were happy to sit down with the stakeholders of Ute Road (recreation district, school district and county) and discuss some of the issues that had been raised. The biggest obstacle right now in building the road is funding. We received partial funding from an energy impact grant from DOLA, but are required to commit more funds to the project in order to move forward. Our hope is that the community and the entities involved will be able to support this project both abstractly and financially.”
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Work is progressing on the new school.
“The school construction project is coming along really well,” said school board president Mary Strang. “There have been a lot of changes recently — wall partitions are going up, curb and gutter for the parking lot are all but complete and the parking lot will be paved soon.”
Strang said there will be opportunities for the public to tour the new facility in the near future.
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It’s not available yet in Rio Blanco County, but the H1N1 vaccine — for the swine flu — is expected to be ready locally sometime in the next month or two.
“Yes, we will be doing swine flu vaccinations, but we’re not sure when,” said Holli Schopp of the Rio Blanco County Health Department, which covers both Meeker and Rangely. “Our regular flu clinics are starting a little earlier this year, because of us doing the swine vaccinations also. We are looking at November or December to start giving them (swine vaccinations), but we’ll wait and see what the recommendation is from the state. It will be a series of two shots. The second one is the booster and will probably be given 30 days after the first.”
Nick Goshe, CEO of Rangely District Hospital, said, “The H1N1 vaccines we are told will not be available until the middle of October.”
Added Margie Joy, spokeswoman for Meeker’s Pioneers Medical Center, “We are still confirming when we will receive the H1N1 vaccine to make it available.”
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Meeker’s Recreation Center was given two Pilates machines, donated by Vernon and Gaynell Grizzard.
“Right now, we are figuring out where we are going to put the machines,” said Dondi Glasscock of the recreation center staff. “The machines will be available to use via personal training later in the year, as we are in the process of scheduling training for staff to get instructor certification.”
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Scott Pierson, director of the Meeker Recreation and Park District, is recovering from surgery to remove a burst appendix. His recovery was slowed by infection, but he’s on the mend now.
“Slowly, but surely I’ll get better,” Scott said. “It has been a challenge — never ending, it seems — but it is coming along.”
Get better soon, Scott.
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Mary Lansing, principal of the “new” Parkview Elementary School in Rangely — now housed in the former middle school building — said she and the staff and students are settling in.
“Yes, it is beginning to feel like home,” Lansing said. “It is a great building and we are loving it.”
The old Parkview building was closed to save the district money, and grade-school classes were moved to the middle school building, while sixth through 12th grades were combined in what was the high school building, which is now called Rangely Junior High/Senior High.
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If you want to find out more about what is happening in the Rangely School District, there will be a public information meeting at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 24 at the junior/senior high auditorium.
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Jerry and Lindsey Blankenship of Rangely will be headed to Las Vegas, courtesy of Quality Carpet and Furnishings of Rangely. Quality Carpet celebrated its seventh anniversary Saturday with a drawing for a Las Vegas trip, and the Blankenships’ names were drawn. The trip includes hotel and airfare from Grand Junction.
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New or re-elected members to the Meeker Chamber of Commerce are: Bobby Gutierrez of Cuppa Joe, Margie Joy of Pioneers Medical Center (the current president), Scott Merritt of ExxonMobil, Randy Ridgeway of R&T Oilfield Services and Cindy Welle of Meeker Realty.
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Rio Blanco County recently announced it was cracking down on littering and illegal trash dumping with its “Keeping Rio Blanco County Beautiful” campaign.
Some individuals in Rangely — Vern and Irene Rose and Dave and Pat Atherton — have been conducting their own clean-up campaign.
The couples like to enjoy the outdoors, but they were disturbed by the amount of trash and illegal dumping — of appliances, for example — they have seen while exploring rural Rio Blanco County. So they decided to do something about it. They’ve been picking up trash, including a lot of beer cans and bottles.
“It doesn’t take a lot to do it,” Dave Atherton said. “When you’re out enjoying yourself, it’s kind of unsettling to see that people consume that much alcohol. Apparently, Bud and Keystone are the beers of choice in Rio Blanco County. It’s a paradise out here. We need to keep it beautiful.”
On a personal note, I do a lot of walking around town in Meeker and Rangely, and it’s troubling to see trash on our sidewalks, sometimes just a few steps away from a public trash can. I frequently see littering, too, when I’m driving back and forth between Meeker and Rangely. I mean, seriously, how much effort does it take to put garbage in a trash can?
If only more people were like the Roses and Athertons.
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There is a lot of debate about health care these days.
Recently, I had a personal encounter with the health care system. I was denied health insurance coverage because of a prescription I have taken for 20 years.
I had a minor bout of colitis in 1989, but after I began taking medication, I’ve had no problems since then. I tried explaining to the insurance company that I was healthy, but, apparently, once an insurer makes its decision, that’s it. They won’t reconsider. At least that’s what I was told in my case.
Thankfully, I have health insurance; I was just looking at changing companies.
There was a time, though, after my divorce, when I couldn’t afford health insurance. That’s a scary situation for anybody to be in, I don’t care what kind of health care system you support.
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I recently had a co-worker ask me about the date of an upcoming event, and when I checked my calendar, she said, “Why do you have a 2010 calendar on your wall?”
I hadn’t realized I had been using a calendar for next year.
“At least it’s September,” I said.
This is the same co-worker who, when I said something about the “Old Farts in Carts” golf tournament at Meeker Golf Course, said, “Hey, you qualify now.”

Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at jeff@theheraldtimes.com.