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By ALLIE WILLEY
Special to the Herald Times
MEEKER | This year the Meeker High School created a Community Development Group. The group came together in the fall of 2016 through the United States Forest Service (USFS), Rocky Mountain Youth Corps (RMYC) and Meeker High School. Victoria Houser, recreation staff officer; Michelle Selle, high school science teacher; and Lauren VandenHurk, RMYC program manager, met with a group of students calling themselves “the community improvement group.” The group consisted of Briar Meszaros, Pake Burke, Savana May, Sydnie Main, Allison Moon, Caliegh Morgan, Nick Massey, Emily Silva and Mary Bailey. They met roughly once a month throughout the school year to vision and plan for summer projects.
The students started with a activity called PhotoVoice, where they walked around the community and took photos of areas and thought about ideas of what the crew could do to enhance the community. The group decided that they wanted to do a pop-up mural project. They then got to work to determine who owned the land, what the cost of each project would be and researched all the things that would go into the project. The group worked to create and present a proposal to the Town of Meeker and the Rio Blanco Board of County Commissioners, both of which helped to fund this project.
The group started working in June, when two crews between ages 14-17 worked to build, design and paint the benches that are now showcased throughout the community. The community development crew got together to create them in two week sessions. Each session had an “in-town” week and a camping week where the crew worked and camped together Monday through Friday. The pop-up mural bench project happened during the “in-town” week of each session. For both sessions, the crew then camped together at the Hill Creek Campground and worked in partnership with the USFS Blanco Ranger District on an invasive species removal project focused on removing hounds tongue.
The entire group loved the experience and said they would definitely consider doing it next summer as well. They said it was a great way to get out and to meet new people, and allowed them to show their gratitude for the community. The crew was very excited because they could choose their own ideas, “which almost never happens.”
The USFS acted as RMYC’s primary project partner for this program. The agreement funded the project work which helps cover program operations, transportation and crew member pay and other costs associated with running the program. In addition to the USFS, the Town of Meeker and the Board of County Commissioners funded the cost of materials and Mayor Halandras donated outdoor paint for the benches.
There are five benches showcased throughout Meeker, each displaying a unique element of Meeker’s history, recreation and spirit. Benches can be found at the Library, Chamber of Commerce, Wendll’s, the Meeker Hotel and the White River Museum.