The stories written in the past three weeks by Meeker High School to-be-senior Calvin Shepherd are prophetic and troubling. According to his stories — and I believe they are reflective also of Rangely to some extent — teenagers in Rio Blanco County can’t find jobs nor do they have anything to do at night.
These are both problems that are not new and have faced particularly small-town teens for decades. But there is a bit of a pall cast over particularly Meeker, although I again suspect the same is true to some extent for Rangely.
The bottom-line question is: What is the solution to both of these problems?
The often-unwelcome answer: Growth.
There are more than a few folks — and Rio Blanco County residents are not unique in this mindset — who are against growth of any kind. They want the life they moved here for decades ago or grew up with to remain unchanged. They find that all is well and that more people mean more problems.
They are right. It does mean more problems.
But it also means more people, who will bring more businesses, who will bring more stores, more restaurants, more entertainment and more variety in shopping for nearly everything, including food, clothing, furniture, etc.
But with that growth comes the people who will support those businesses.
One of the biggest complaints I have heard in my four months here is that, even with the old timers, they want the kids to stay close at home, not move off to a different city, state or — God forbid — country to make a living.
A lot of the teens now would love to stay in Rio Blanco County the rest of their lives, but there is no way they are going to find a job that pays blue-collar wages. How many people in this county do you think are working to make $80,000 to $100,000 a year? Darned few. And even fewer without any training.
There are farms and ranches that are making pretty good wages I would bet, but what about those youths who don’t want to work on the ranches and farms. How many of these local teens want to stay around and work for roughly $5 an hour as a waiter or waitress even with tips, when, according to a couple of waitress I know, many folks in Meeker leave a dollar or two for a tip on a $60 meal bill.
How many mechanics can Meeker or Rangely support? How many electricians or plumbers?
Good-paying jobs are needed to keep today’s teens here or to have them come back here after obtaining a college degree.
I am a Colorado native. I understand the mindset that has existed since the late 60s, believing, “Great, I am in Colorado now, so it is time to close the gates.” That mindset has hit Colorado, Arizona and Oregon very hard. It has really hit Utah as a double whammy. That state, which really used to live in its own bubble, realized not too long ago that Mormons were no longer in the majority in Salt Lake City. Many of the old timers nearly had heart attacks when Utah was named the home of the Winter Olympics.
“Oh my God, they thought. Now outsiders are going to discover what we’ve known for years,” was the cry of those who don’t want to see any more “outsiders” moving to their state.
I have run across many “outsiders” since I moved to Rio Blanco County, and they have made it very clear that they feel they are treated by the area “natives” as outsiders.
One woman who has lived in Meeker since 1996 — 17 years — said to me on Thursday of last week, “You know, Meeker is a very friendly town, but it is not a welcoming town. I have been involved in community activities, I support local functions, including businesses and churches and I volunteer a lot of different places, and the people around here still treat me like I’m not here.”
I have listened as several old timers and “outsiders” have said to my face, “The old timers around here won’t accept you as anything but an outsider until you have lived here at least 30 years. Then, they might start to warm up to you.”
Remember, this is the old timers and outsiders having make those exact statements. There must be some truth to it!
There is a chamber of commerce in Meeker and another in Rangely. Their business is to promote member businesses in those towns and to encourage growth that will bring more businesses and people here in the hopes of improving the bottom line for existing businesses. They want to see a vibrant business community — it is the “action group” of any town or city.
A non-growing city is a stagnant city.
A stagnant city doesn’t have jobs for the local youths, doesn’t have anything for the teens to do at night, doesn’t care if there is nothing for these you adults to do for a decent living and it makes it very clear that “outsiders” are just that — not welcome and that they tend to be a bother only worthy of tolerating.
I would want to ask the old timers around here — in Meeker and in Rangely — just how many real friends do you include in your circle who have lived here 10 years or less? May guess is that the percentage is really low.
But reflecting on the questions raised — and I truly do understand the theory of the closed door — I would ask these same people, “Are you doing your kids, your community, your businesses and your downtown areas a disservice?”
One may not believe it, but change can be a good thing if done in moderation, and growth and acceptance both mean progress.
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If you are an animal lover, the Rio Blanco County Fair is for you.
The action “officially” opened on Monday, but the dog show on Friday and the horse show on Saturday were a real kick to watch.
There were some beautiful dogs and some beautiful equines on display, but to watch the faces of the pee wee kids as they rode their horses around a small obstacle course, having to stop and check the “mailbox” and then touch the raincoat at the end of the course were priceless.
These tiny cowboys and cowgirls shared all the emotions from joy to be on the horse, frustration and anger when the horses wouldn’t do what they wanted, absolute happiness when they did what they should have done, and complete satisfaction and pride with themselves as they touched the raincoat to end the course.
The fair continues to run until the FFA/4-H livestock sale, which winds up the fair on Saturday night. But I expect — in addition to the beef barbecue and lamb kabobs — that there will be great times, good food, cute animals, cute children, a lot of tears and a lot of smiles before the fair is over.
And after all, aren’t all of those things what memories of childhood are made of?
Just as an observer, that is what I remember. And congratulations to the contestants because what you do is some tough work and you should be proud.