Sounds of Meeker Part 4: The Airport

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MEEKER | One of the distinct sounds of Meeker, perhaps surprisingly, are planes and helicopters flying overhead. It seems to me we’ve been listening to more planes this summer, so I wondered if we’re possibly getting more visitors. This question caused me to realize that I don’t know anything about our airport, leading to this “Sounds of Meeker” story.

Coulter Airport, activated in 1946, is owned and funded by Rio Blanco County.  At an official elevation of 6,421 feet the airport offers three runways, has no radio tower, and operates around the clock.  An official weather station, information you may receive on your weather app for Meeker, probably comes from airport readings.

Managed by Lanny Coulter and his crew of four, its operations are quite broad and include fuel, aircraft maintenance, overnight tie-down, hangars, Flight for Life support, oxygen resources, aerial spraying, and more. They even provide a loaner auto for in town use to visitors.

Lanny Coulter grew up in the airport business, following in his father’s footsteps, the prior manager. His days are unpredictable and his job consists of a wide variety of tasks including piloting charter flights, supporting BLM firefighting, managing a full aircraft maintenance facility, aerial spraying and the list goes on. He seems to love all aspects of his work with 62 years of airport experience in his background.  

On average, around 29 flights arrive or depart daily. Mr. Coulter told me we are about normal this time of the summer, although numbers of flights were down a bit earlier this year.  Recently, we’ve had the firefighting helicopters zipping around and I think I heard a slurry bomber today.

Among the benefits to local citizens is the Flight for Life program whose aircraft can fly you to a hospital if you need specialized, emergency care. The medical helicopter at Pioneers Hospital has its own landing pad but uses the airport for gas and repairs.

Local pilot David Cole flies many physicians to and from our small western towns, including Steamboat, Craig, Cortez and Durango. Without this ability to relocate doctors quickly, we residents would have to travel to them.

“The Meeker Airport has much going for us,” says Cole, a 32-year resident, because of the economic impact. This includes second home visitors buying airport fuel, fixed wing aircraft response to wildfires, various aspects of medical support, and stopovers by business jets. Many of these folks buy groceries, lodging, gas and recreational supplies in Meeker. 

According to CDOT’s ”Airport Economic Impact Report of 2020,” airport activity adds $1,313,000  to the local community plus off airport visitor spending is $1,160,000. For more information, see for Meeker/Coulter Field. 

With the right pilot, aircraft, and a pocketful of cash you could charter a flight as far as 500 miles from Coulter Airport. An approximate cost to fly to Denver is $4,000-$5,000, depending on number of people, aircraft fuel, pilot availability/commercial certification, immediacy, etc. 

Unlike DIA (Denver International Airport) our airport has few noise restrictions except departing to the north for larger aircraft. Although normally a rather quiet sound of Meeker, when noise picks up, it tells us residents we are getting more visitors, either tourists or emergency support.

Many thanks to Lanny Coulter and David Cole for graciously contributing to this article. Upcoming is the final segment of “The Sounds of Meeker.”

By Kaye Sullivan | Special to the Herald Times