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Rio Blanco CountyMeeker

Rio Blanco County is located in rural northwestern Colorado. The climate ranges from semiarid to alpine with significant daily temperature changes. The county is 3,220 square miles, and approximately 75% of county lands are federally owned and include parts of the White River and Routt National Forests.


The 2012 population estimate for Rio Blanco County was 6,857. This represents a 2.9% growth rate since 2010. The county is designated as a frontier county, with only 2.1 persons per square mile.Sheep dogs

Quick Facts

County Seat: Meeker

Area: 3,228 square miles (larger than the entire state of Delaware!)

Industries: Agriculture, coal, nahcolite, natural gas, oil, oil shale, and recreation

Major Employers: Energy industry, Agriculture, Tourism, Government/BLM/Forest Service, Hospitals and Family Clinics

Education: Colorado Northwest Community College, Elementary, Middle School, and High Schools in Meeker and Rangely.

Area Challenges: Growing community infrastructure and social services to meet growing demand and impact from energy industry (roads, healthcare, education, public works, and social services). Building a diverse economic base.

Recent Successes: A new elementary school in Meeker (2011), currently preparing to build a replacement hospital in Meeker, newly renovated schools and recreation center in Rangely, opened a new hospital in Rangely (2012), currently expanding the Meeker airport.

Little Known Fact: While visiting Meeker, President Theodore Roosevelt shot a world-record mountain lion, and held the record until the 1990's.


Meeker is the county seat and the most populous town of Rio Blanco County. The town population was 2,475 in 2010. Meeker is largely an agricultural community, located in the wide fertile valley of the White River at an elevation of 6,249 feet. Relatively isolated from other communities, it sits near the intersection of State Highway 13 and State Highway 64, on the north side of the White River and at the base of a long ridge, known locally as China Wall. The Flat Tops Wilderness Area and White River National Forest are only 30 miles away. Meeker has a modern general aviation airport with full-service fixed base operations and charter service.

History of Meeker:
In 1868, Major John Wesley Powell, his wife, and about 20 others came to the valley and established winter quarters in this wide-open space, now called Powell Park. The first Indian Agency was established here a year later, nine miles east of the present town.

Nathan Meeker arrived as the Indian agent in 1878, determined to convert the resident Ute Indians from “primitive savages” to hard-working, God-fearing farmers. When Meeker plowed up the Indian’s racetrack, it was the final insult. The Indians attacked in what was the last major Indian uprising in the United States. Meeker and the 10 men employed by the agency were killed, the agency burned to the ground, and the women and children captured and held hostage for 24 days.

In response, the Army arrived quickly and established the Camp on the White River, banishing the Indians to a reservation in eastern Utah. The army moved out in 1883, selling all the buildings to those settlers eager to take the land and build a town named after the slain Indian agent Nathan Meeker. Four of these buildings still stand on their original locations.

The first community Fourth of July celebration was held in 1884, and Meeker was incorporated a year later. For the next twenty years, Meeker was the only incorporated town in northwestern Colorado.

The Town of Rangely is located in western Rio Blanco County. The population of Rangely was 2,351 in 2011. Rangely is located on a high-desert plateau at an elevation of 5,200 feet just 20 miles southeast of Dinosaur National Monument and nestled in the lower White River Valley. The White River provides fishing and canoeing opportunities and runs through the Town of Rangely and Kenney Reservoir is just five miles outside of town. Colorado State Highway 64 runs through Rangely making easy access for travelers. In addition, state Highway 139 (south to the Grand Junction area) intersects with State Highway 64 one mile east of Rangely. The Rangely Airport is home to the CNCC flight school, and other operations include corporate jets, helicopters, personal aircraft, and ultra-lights.

History of Rangely:
Until about 1200 AD, the Rangely area was home to people of the Fremont culture, a pre-Columbian archaeological culture. The Canyon Pintado National Historic District features pictographs and petroglyphs of the Fremont. The Utes followed the Fremonts and were one of the last Indian Nations to lose their independence.

The first Europeans to pass through what is now Rangely were Fathers Dominguez and Escalante who in 1776 led a Spanish expedition to find a way from Mexico to California. In 1882, Charles P. Hill and Joseph Studer brought in herds of cattle and established a trading post where Douglas Creek enters the White River. Other cattle and sheep ranchers soon followed. As more people moved into the area, a town center gradually developed. In 1913, the townspeople got together and built a new school. But, Rangely is a young town as far as towns in Colorado go. It was not incorporated until 1947, and the first paved roads did not make it to Rangely for another decade.

It was known from the earliest of times that there was oil in Rangely. Indians used oil seeping out of the ground for medicinal purposes. There are place names such as Stinking Water Creek where surface waters mixed with oil. However, it was not until after World War II that an oil boom took place. Thousands of people descended on the town. Many lived in tents or dugouts. A local entrepreneur hauled in abandoned trolley cars from Salt Lake City and rented them out to people for shelter.

Energy, agricultural and outdoor recreation are key economic drivers for Rio Blanco County.

Since World War II, the economy of Rio Blanco County has been fueled, in part, by development of its energy/natural resources, which are abundant. (The gas fields of the Piceance Basin, which encompasses portions of Rio Blanco County along with other parts of western Colorado, cover an area larger than the state of Connecticut.) In Rio Blanco County, extraction/energy industries are focused on coal, nahcolite (baking soda), natural gas, oil, and oil shale.

Rio Blanco County also has a long agricultural history and agriculture contributes significantly to the local economy. The Meeker Sheepdog Classic, County Fair and Range Call Celebration (the oldest annual rodeo in Colorado) celebrate the county’s deep ranching and agricultural roots.

Outdoor recreation in Rio Blanco County offers something for everyone in all four seasons. Outdoor enthusiasts are attracted by the county’s varied terrain and natural features for activities such as OHV/ATV touring, rock crawling, hiking, biking, camping, horseback riding, hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, boating and scenic and historic byways,.

In 2011, the per capita personal income in Rio Blanco County was $27,771, compared to $30,816 for the state. The median value for a home in Rio Blanco County (2007-2011) was $201,600, compared to the state median value of $236,700. The median household income for the same time period was $63,125, compared to $57,685 for Colorado overall.

Colorado Northwestern Community College (CNCC) is a two-year junior college located in Rangely. CNCC provides a high-quality, affordable education to more than 1,000 students and offers a diverse array of programs in allied health professions, business, computer science, construction technology, cosmetology, criminal justice, dental hygiene (state and nationally ranked program), emergency medical technology, geographic information systems (GIS), mine training, natural resources, nursing, oil and gas process technology, power plant technology, and many other fields. CNCC is noted for its flight school, which has been training pilots, both private and professional, for nearly 50 years.

Health Services
Pioneers Medical Center in Meeker is home to Pioneers Hospital, a Critical Access hospital with inpatient, outpatient and 24/7 emergency trauma care, surgical services, and home health services. Facilities also include the Meeker Family Health Center, Walbridge Wing skilled nursing and long-term care, Pioneers industrial medicine and employee wellness programs, and a Rehabilitation Center.

Rangely District Hospital in Rangely provides general medical and surgical care for inpatient, outpatient, and emergency room patients. Among other services, Rangely District Hospital also provides Assisted Living - Eagle Crest, Cardiopulmonary, Dental Center, Dietary Services, Family Medicine, Home Health, Laboratory, Nursing, Physical Therapy and Radiology.

Nonprofit Organizations

Christian Cowboy Ministries
Colorado Northwestern Community College Foundation
Colorado West Regional Mental Health
Dinosaur Diamond Inc
Human Resource Center Inc Giant Step
Meeker Arts and Cultural Council
Meeker Community Food Bank
Meeker Education Foundation
Meeker Elementary School PTA
Meeker United Methodist Church
New Eden Pregnancy Care Services
Pioneers Healthcare Foundation Inc
Rangely Food Bank Inc
Rangely Human Resource Council of Rio Blanco County
Rangely Junior College District
Rangely Museum Society
Rangely School Foundation Inc
Rangely Victim Services Inc
Rio Blanco County 4-H
Rio Blanco County Historical Society Inc and White River Museum
Rio Blanco County Woolgrowers Association
Upper Colorado Environmental Plant Center

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