RBC I Around 30 years ago, a group of locals sat around over coffee and talked about ways to give an economic boost to the community.
They came up with the idea of hosting a sheepdog trial.
The rest, of course, is history.
“If somebody had asked me 30 years ago what this would turn into, I never would have envisioned this,” said Gus Halandras, who was one of the locals who sparked the idea of having a sheepdog trial. “It just keeps humming along. And you look around and everybody has smiles on their faces.”
There were plenty of smiles during this year’s five-day event. One of the biggest smiles belonged to Amanda Milliken, who with her dog Howell, won her third Meeker Classic Sheepdog Championship Trials.
With a $20,000 purse for this year’s event, Milliken, who is from Kingston, Ontario, Canada, claimed the $5,000 top prize. She complimented organizers on running a top-flight event.
“The set-out was flawless. The sheep were consistent, gorgeous and exposed everything, good and bad, in every dog that met them,” Milliken said. “The management is always kindhearted and upbeat. The crowds are receptive and enthusiastic, spurred by (announcer) Ray Crabtree’s intelligent, inspiring commentary. Meeker shows us all how to run sheepdog trials. They set the bar.”
For Mary “Maym” Cunningham, who is director of the trials, she couldn’t have been happier with how this year’s event went, though, she added, there’s always room for improvement.
“We had no complaints from the handlers, and the judge was absolutely wonderful,” Cunningham said. “And the vendors were happy. Everything was up from last year. Everything went well.”
Dorrance Eikamp, a handler from Gillette, Wyo., who was the Meeker Classic champion in 1994, agreed.
“I go to trials all over the country, and this is my favorite,” Eikamp said.
It didn’t hurt that plenty of sunshine and warm afternoon temperatures graced each day of this year’s event.
“We had wonderful weather,” Cunningham said.
“We don’t have actual numbers yet, but based on gate receipts it was a 30 percent increase in attendance, and last year we had 5,500 people come through the gate in five days,” Cunningham said.
More than 500 schoolchildren also participated in the event’s educational outreach program, which ran Wednesday through Friday, and was free for students.
Perhaps the biggest selling point for the event, Cunningham said, is the city of Meeker itself.
“People just can’t get over the friendliness and hospitality of Meeker, Colorado,” Cunningham said. “The handlers, everybody, they feel like they are part of the community.”
The community benefits from hosting the trials, Cunningham said.
“We’ve had economic impact studies done the last two years and they have shown that the trials bring in $800,000 to $850,000 in money coming into the community,” Cunningham said. “That’s what people spend in motels, fuel, restaurants, all those things.”
This was Cunningham’s fifth year as director of the Meeker Classic. She took over for her sister Ellen Nieslanik in 2010.
“You never stop learning,” Cunningham said. “Ellen laid the framework. We’re trying to build on that and make it better. You take everybody’s suggestions and do a lot of refining.”
Something different this year was use of social media to promote the trials.
“We really focused on social media this year,” Cunningham said. “Carly Schayer Thomson, who is on the board, led the charge for that. That helped us reach a different demographic.”
Besides board members, it takes about 350 volunteers to put on an event like the Meeker Classic. Many of the volunteers are local, but they also come from other locations in Colorado as well as other states.
“I’d like to credit the entire board for the culmination of a year’s worth of planning,” Cunningham said. “They all work so hard. It’s a team effort.”
Even though this year’s event just ended, planning for next year’s 30th is under way, Cunningham said.
“People are already making plans for the 30th,” Cunningham said. “That will be a big deal.”