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RBC I The newly reconstructed runway, taxiways and a new large-aircraft apron at Meeker Airport were dedicated Saturday morning to Gary Coulter, the man who has managed the airport since 1959 — a total of 54 years.
The new airport opened on Nov. 27. Coulter piloted the first aircraft onto the new runway accompanied by his wife, Relda, his daughter, Samantha, and his son, Lanny.
The dedication on Saturday coincided with the reopening of the Meeker Airport, where major improvements have taken place. Construction began in June 2012 and reached substantial completion just last week.
Coulter was the guest of honor for Saturday’s dedication, driven into the main hangar at the airport by his wife, Relda. The dedication was a complete surprise for Coulter, who has been ill.
Upon seeing the roughly 80 people gathered in the hangar, a few tears came to Coulter’s eyes, and when he exited the family vehicle, those present offered a standing ovation to the couple, who have invested a lot of time and interest in the operations at the airport over the years.
The Coulter’s sons, Lanny and Alan, daughters, Jeri Allen and Samantha, and many other relatives were present for the ceremony. Also present were members of the aviation community and GDA Engineers, who designed, bid and provided construction oversight for the project.
The dedication was in recognition of the “high influence and positive impact that Gary Coulter has had on Meeker Airport and aviation in Colorado. The field was dedicated in his honor. The new name of the airport is Meeker Airport Coulter Field.”
In addition to the dedication, those present celebrated the completion of two major projects: the reconstruction of runway 3/21 and construction of a huge aircraft apron and partial parallel taxiway — supported by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Colorado Department of Transportation and Rio Blanco County.
In addition to being the airport manager, Coulter is also owner and operator of Coulter Aviation, providing charter flights, crop dusting and aviation repairs. He has flown in every state in the United States and has amassed more than 25,000 hours of flight.
His wife, Relda, has also been largely influential on the airport and been highly supportive of Coulter and his work over the decades.
Coulter has received many awards of distinction over the years. In 2010, he was awarded the Outstanding Service Award from the Colorado Agricultural Aviation Industry for his “outstanding dedication to the Colorado Agricultural Aviation Industry.” In 2011, “in recognition of his contributions to building and maintaining the safest aviation system in the world through practicing and promoting safe aircraft and maintenance or more than 50 consecutive years,” he was presented the Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award.
The Coulters’ daughter, Samantha Lopez, who is also the county’s airports projects coordinator, said a full grand opening of the airport will take place later this spring but that the dedication held now was to ensure that Coulter could be present.
The runway reconstruction enlarged the runway from 6,500 feet long and 60 feet wide, which could support aircraft up to 27,000 pounds, to one that is 6,500 feet long and 100 feet wide and designed to support aircraft up to 60,000 pounds.
The actual cost match on the $10.3 million runway reconstruction project was funded 90 percent by the FAA, 5 percent by CDOT and 5 percent by Rio Blanco County. CDOT demonstrated significant support for the airport by providing a 90 percent match while Rio Blanco County paid the remaining 10 percent on the $2.7 million apron project.
Project manager Jeremy McAlister of GDA Engineers of Cody, Wyo., said, “Now when you approach from afar, it no longer looks like you’re landing on a Band Aid because it was so narrow. It is one of the smoothest runways I have ever landed on and that new apron will really increase the airport’s capacity to accommodate jet traffic.”
Approximately 1,158,000 cubic yards of dirt needed to be moved for both projects.
Meeker Airport is a public-use airport opened in 1946. The airport serves a variety of needs, including business jet traffic, crop dusting and recreation flights.
The airport serves the community as a critical business center as well as a port to the entire aviation system. It routinely handles medical flights, supports the U.S. Forest Service in firefighting operations and assists Colorado Parks and Wildlife with wildlife counts. It has a published non-precision approach, providing the capability to accommodate traffic in marginal weather.
Meeker Airport is the only National Weather Service-recognized weather station in Rio Blanco County, keeping official track of the temperature, precipitation and wind speeds.