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Since Thursday, everywhere in Rio Blanco County and particularly on the east side near the Flat Tops and the mountains south and north of Meeker one saw a lot of four-wheelers and off-highway vehicles (OHVs).
It all started on Wednesday afternoon with the OHVs arriving for Thursday’s start of the 2016 Wagon Wheel OHV Rendezvous, sponsored by the Meeker Chamber of Commerce and by Rio Blanco County.
This is the fifth annual rendezvous and easily can boast of having its largest participation yet.
When it first began, there weren’t many more than a handful of participants involved in the rendezvous. But that number has grown substantially, and by Friday officials with the event announced that at least 160 OHVs were registered with one, two, three or four persons in some cases (families) linked per vehicle.
Ever constant in discussion regarding Rio Blanco County has been the Better Cities plan, which involves Rio Blanco County and the towns of Meeker and Rangely. The idea in a nutshell is to put river walks along the White River in both towns, to make the downtown areas more tourist friendly and to turn the county into a giant recreation area with, at least at this time, an increase in emphasis on archery and other outdoor activities.
That is a tremendous idea if the plan is able to see fruition. A year-round recreation haven for outdoor enthusiasts would be great. The entire area would be able to cater year-around to archers, snowmobilers and cross-country skiers. It would attract hikers, campers, more hunters, horseback riders, more fishermen and women and just about anything else that can be done outside as well as many aspects of the outdoor life being drawn inside during winter.
The idea is great. The need is probably great and the draw could incredibly enhance the economy/employment within Rio Blanco County—something everyone would agree is much needed.
The dream is going to be an expensive one and it is not going to happen over night.
I understand the forces are at work behind the scenes to make some of this stuff happen before it might be expected, but any progress is progress—and that is a very good thing.
The spectacular growth seen this year at the 2016 Wagon Wheel Rendezvous, headquartered at the Rio Blanco County Fairgrounds, was another equally important event for the county.
With an increase of nearly double in attendees over last year, this year’s event showed that people will travel to Meeker and its surroundings if there is some form of recreation to be found that piques someone’s interest.
Rio Blanco County has a phenomenal trail system that leaves little beautiful county terrain uncovered. No one wants a trail every 150 feet throughout the area, but the trails have been judiciously selected to showcase the area with a variety of rides.
There are rides out there for the beginners and those who are reluctant to take risks and there are trails out there that would make your hair stand on end.
That’s what is needed.
The trails have been tailored and will continue to expand and be tailored with diversity in mind, and that could help take the pressure off the all-the-eggs-in-one-basket feeling some folks have toward the Better Cities plans.
There is so much more that can be done with the OHV fanatics around the state, region and nation, and what better place to do that than right here.
There could be a gold mine in pushing and pursuing a draw for the snowmobilers in the area, state and nation—and, God knows, we have certainly had the snow to handle a large winter event or two.
We have the hotel rooms now, we have the restaurants that can handle an abundance of visitors, as they showed last week with the OHV riders, and, hopefully, as these events grow, the towns of Rangely and Meeker will grow and Rio Blanco County will grow and start to prosper again.
The OHV riders ate at our restaurants, they drank in our bars, they shopped in our stores, they stayed in our hotels and motels and they stayed in our campgrounds. These events do make a difference and they all—from events like these in Meeker to events like Septemberfest in Rangely—draw attention, people and dollars to Rio Blanco County.
Those at the rendezvous were outspoken about how well they were treated, how well the rendezvous was run and how friendly the people at the hotels, motels, restaurants and businesses were while they were in Meeker.
No, the county population isn’t going to double in three years. The businesses that are struggling aren’t going to wake up to pots of gold in the yard right away. The incomes of area residents aren’t going to triple and the rents aren’t going to come down to what they should be.
But in time—hopefully not too much time—all of these things will begin to make a difference.
Rio Blanco County has seen more than its share of ups and downs, and we know that those have been linked to the energy industry. Oil and gas may indeed come back into prominence in the county once again and the severance taxes may again flow like water as they have a couple of times.
But enthusiasm is the only outlook to have at this point. If not for enthusiasm and hope for the not-real-distant future, what are we doing here?
We have beautiful mountains and valleys; we have an abundance of water; we have terrific schools that will only see improvements; we have healthy lifestyles and terrific athletes; we have great air quality as often as almost anywhere; we have a college; we have some of the best hunting and fishing around; and we tend to have all four seasons—sometimes condensed—and some of the clearest skies around.
Put all of those ingredients in a bowl and you have a heck of a recipe for recreational success.
What about cross-country skiing or snowshoe trails? What about hiking trails throughout the county during the summer? How about horseback rides or summer pack horses on two-, three- or five-day trips? What about fishing on some of the high-altitude lakes in the Flat Tops?
The possibilities are endless.
Let’s face it, if the weather is good, folks in Colorado and folks visiting Colorado are probably up for it if they know what about it. If the weather isn’t quite so good, you have the tough winter enthusiasts in Colorado and throughout the West who are probably up for it—if they know about it and if it is promoted enough.
Meeker has something nearly every weekend from late April until the Meeker Sheepdog Classic, which is the second full week in September. That’s actually only a five-month period with so much planned.
But, by golly, that leaves actually more than half the year with only a couple of events that draw outsiders into Rio Blanco County.
With indoor and outdoor activities and facilities, there is no limit as to what can be done in Rio Blanco County.
Towns like Durango are certainly not on the beaten path and the narrow gauge railroad doesn’t run year-around, but Durango is busy year around. Vail, Steamboat Springs, Aspen and places like Copper Mountain are winter resorts. But they keep the condos and hotels full in the springs, summer and fall as well.
Am I crazy?
But I am using my imagination and looking at the possibilities that could become a part of Rio Blanco’s future reality.
If we all sit back—even those in Rio Blanco County who are non-believers—and tell ourselves that we are dying and half way to dead, then we are doomed. But hopefully there are enough believers out there who can see that there could be a bright future worth investing time, money and effort.
Some folks have sat back long enough and let the oil industry and the gas industry do all the work for us. Few are those who have made good money here who have jumped up and lent a hand in time, energy or bucks to help make a difference.
Rio Blanco County is a fine home and has treated its long-timers pretty well. Maybe it is time for them to get involved in spirit and reality and take a role that could lead to the area becoming everything it could be.
The Four-Mile Fire burned about 400 acres south of Rangely. The Blair Fire burned roughly 1,000 acres in an area north of Highway 64 about 20 miles west of Meeker.
The regional, state and national firefighting teams are staying in area hotels while they fight the local fires and they travel through on their way to fight other battles.
This is just a request to be extra careful while out and about as there is a lot of dry grass and foliage that is tinder dry. Please put all cigarettes out inside your vehicle, don’t throw matches out of windows and please be super careful when dealing with any kind of match or fire in a camping ground or outdoor area.