From My Window… Living here for a year now; potential tremendous for area

Sean McMahon, Editor
Sean McMahon, Editor
Saturday is my one-year anniversary in Rio Blanco County — or at least the day I started working as editor of the Herald Times.
It has truly been an enjoyable, if not “interesting,” year for me and my wife, Cris.
Cris grew up in northern Wyoming’s Big Horn Mountains, and I figured she’d fit right in with the winters we had heard about around here. Maybe it was the 18 years in Arizona that turned her into a desert rat, but she has had a tougher time than I have.
I grew up in Boulder but spent 14 years in the mountains of Wyoming — up north and along windy I-80 — but I loved this past winter. Don’t mind snow; don’t mind cold. Don’t like wind at all, but that hasn’t been a problem in the past year.
The people here have been great. They have been cordial, polite and friendly.
A Meeker woman stopped in the office the other day and, after doing her business in the front office, she asked if I was in. I was.
She greeted me with the salutation that “I have lived here my whole life and I don’t agree with you that the people of Meeker are unfriendly.”
I was a bit taken back.
“I have never said that the Meeker people are unfriendly or anything else negative about the residents of Meeker,” I responded.
I continued, “I have said since shortly after I moved here that here in Rio Blanco County are some of the friendliest people I have ever met. I said this is a friendly town and everyone has been most cordial without exception. But I do believe it will take years to become a real fully accepted member of the community, where the residents in the town and surrounding area would accept one as a local and invite me into their social circle.”
She said, “Well, that’s true. But I still don’t think we are an unfriendly town.”
She proceeded to give me her theory on why it takes so long to be welcomed into the community.
I have broached the subject with a number of old-timers here and if I say I’ve spoken with 30 long-term locals, I have had probably 25 explanations as to why it takes the locals a long time to warm up to new residents.
I have never had one tell me that they disagreed with the statement that if you haven’t lived here for a long time, you are still considered an outsider. Honestly, most have stated that between 20 and 30 years is about right.
That is further reinforced through such events as the old-timers’ annual dinner and dance, the publicity for which says all those who have lived here for at least 30 years are welcome. I understand that a few years ago that was opened to “and the direct descendants of those who have lived here 30 years.”
Exclusivity is not a good thing for any town, company, family, business, etc.
One thing I have noticed also is an absolute abyss separating two factions of the “locals.” There are those who want the White River Valley to stay as it has been for the past 100 years. And there are those who want to see the town and county grow.
Rio Blanco County is a microcosm of what Colorado was like in the ‘60s, ‘70s and early ‘80s.
There were those who moved here from out of state and then wanted to immediately slam the gate behind them, wanting no more newcomers because Colorado was growing too fast.
Even the older old-timers and the younger old-timers have two quite different ideas.
Where they do agree and should agree is that Rio Blanco County is a good place to live and often they don’t leave. And it is, undeniably, a darned good place to raise a family.
The younger old-timers are faced with the problem of how to make a living. Most of the businesses in town are “making” it but few of the small businesses are thriving.
The only way more businesses are going to thrive is for Meeker (and Rangely) to grow, bringing in more people and more businesses, and that trend feeds upon itself.
Many years down the road, Meeker might become a Rifle or a Craig, although I don’t see that happening in my lifetime.
Any way one looks at it, some growth is good. Some growth is vital to a town’s survival. Controlled growth is a great thing; uncontrolled growth, like happened on the Front Range from the ‘60s to the ‘80s, is not good.
When there is growth and competition, gasoline is cheaper, food is cheaper, clothing is cheaper, rent is cheaper and homes become more affordable. What brings competition is new people and new businesses.
But what do the people in Rio Blanco County really want?
As a person who has lived here only a year, it didn’t take any more than a month for me to see there is a real division in the minds of the “locals.”
The hiring of Katelin Cook to the position of Rio Blanco County economic development director is one of the most positive moves this county has seen in a long time to bring about planned and controlled growth.
The county can now work as a clearinghouse of effort alongside the towns of Rangely and Meeker and hand in hand with the chambers of commerce in both towns to coordinate one effort to bring business and perhaps light industry to the county. Hopefully the area won’t again have to rely so heavily on the boom-bust cycle of oil and gas production so familiar to this area of the state.
Business retention is also a major part of economic development. It is just as important to support and strengthen those businesses that are already here and to help them grow strong and expand.
I believe the business sense of residents in Rio Blanco County is such that they would truly like to shop more locally and to support the businesses that are here. However, it is the law of supply and demand that pushes residents to shop out of town as much as some do.
Growth in a controlled manner can help ease that pain.
Meeker and Rangely are friendly towns. The newcomers are increasing and are actually forming their own groups, which makes the “social” scene and assimilation into the communities easier on themselves.
Rio Blanco County has a world of potential to grow smoothly under control and to make for an even greater place to live and raise a family – and for more families to make better incomes.
I have been here for a year. I plan on being here for a number of years more, and I look forward to the day when the term “a united community” means everyone — young and old, old-timer and newcomer — in Rio Blanco County.