Community profile: 75-year-old retirees, pioneers of mountain biking in the Rifle area

Longtime Valley resident Gary Miller at the Glenwood Hot Springs pool, where he worked as a pool manager from 1971 to 1981.
Chelsea Independent/Post Independent

Gary Miller lives for the outdoors. Whether he’s bouncing back roads to his favorite campsites in his 1945 Ford Jeep or zipping through the switchbacks of the Grand Hogback Trails on his Ibis HD3 ATV, the 75-year-old retiree has a boundless love for the adventure.

Alison Birkenfeld is Vice President of the Rifle Area Mountain Biking Association and has known Miller since 2014. Miller recently accompanied her on a trip to Mexico for a mountain biking adventure to celebrate her birthday.

“How many 75-year-olds do you know who fly to distant international destinations to ride mountain bikes? Not a lot,” Birkenfeld said. “I mean, this guy is and should be a serious inspiration to all of us as we go through the progression of life.”

Birkenfeld described Miller as the glue that holds the RAMBO team together and is not only the first to go out and have fun, but also the first to volunteer when trail maintenance is needed. One of the new trails in the Greater Hogback Trail System has been named Miller Highlife in his honor.

Mountain biking is a big part of me, and in my case, over the past 30 years, it’s constantly encouraged me to try to get fitter, to be a better rider,” Miller said. “It constantly makes me use my brain, which I’m lucky because I have (memory) issues, and it’s hard to bear.”

thirst for adventure

The desire for adventure was introduced to Miller many years ago when he reconnected with his father, Jack Roberts, who had left Miller’s mother shortly after he was born. A struggling alcoholic and not ready for children, Roberts left family in Oklahoma for the Roaring Fork Valley in the 1940s.

“He kind of felt like at some point I would join him…and I’m glad I did, because he changed my life,” Miller said.

Miller started spending her summers in Glenwood Springs to get to know her father, and being the small town it was then, everyone knew each other and everyone knew Jack Roberts.

“I went to church with him once when I first came here – and that’s no exaggeration – but when we walked into the Methodist church together and, as they do at a wedding, people turned around (started whispering), ‘Is that son of Jack Roberts? You could hear them whispering,'” Miller said.

After the small-town chatter died down, the newly-acquainted father-son duo began embarking on daily adventures. At the time, Miller was working a summer job at the Glenwood Hot Springs Resort and had mornings until 3 p.m.

“I spent the first summer of 1967 with him. … He exposed me to so many different things. He actually lived at the foot of Hanging Lake. There was a small resort there until 1969, and the highway forced it to move,” Miller said.

Gary Miller swims laps at the Glenwood Hot Springs pool where he worked as a pool manager from 1971 to 1981.
Chelsea Independent/Post Independent

“I had never been around someone like Jack Roberts. … He was someone who almost constantly had to have fun. He was interesting to be around.

It was during these summer trips to Glenwood Springs that Miller secured a full-time position at Glenwood Hot Springs and a lifetime in Garfield County. He also met his 54-year-old future wife, Monica Anderson, who was a hostess at a restaurant.

“As I graduated (from college), the General Manager of Hot Springs Lodge and Pool left after about 13 years, and they decided to hire someone to run the pool and sports store separately from the general manager,” Miller said. .

The general manager had become too overwhelmed with managing the whole complex, so in 1971 they created a new position to manage the swimming pool.

“I was very lucky, because I was 24 at the time, and it was a big job. I was very lucky to get it,” Miller said.

He continued to work in this position for the next 10 years.

Miller especially enjoyed being able to work with young adults and enjoyed watching them grow from being members of the swim team to working in various pool roles to potentially becoming lifeguards. The hiring age of its staff was as young as 14 years old.

“They didn’t necessarily have to be a good swimmer as long as they had a good attitude,” Miller said. “They would end up being a locker room attendant, or a suit rental company, maybe a chair rental company, and then work their way up the system.”

Miller believes that’s one of the reasons he was able to build such a reliable staff of lifeguards – they knew they could be lifeguards once they got off the swim team.

When Miller started working for the company, the pool didn’t have lifeguards on duty during the day – only after school and on weekends, simply because the demand wasn’t there, and most rescuers at the time were still young. school.

“They hired me to go around the pool, and I did, but eventually I came up with a program with a budget on what it would cost to keep the pool, and that’s what that’s when we started keeping the pool during the day on weekdays,” Miller mentioned. “We had to start hiring adults and students.”

Over the years, the health department began requiring that there be one guard on deck for every 50 people in the water, except for the therapy pool.

New chapter

After a decade of managing the pool, Miller and his wife decided to take the plunge and open a retail store. He left Glenwood Hot Springs and the two opened Miller’s Dry Goods in downtown Rifle.

“I really felt, even at 24, that I was getting a bit too old for the job because it involved so many young people. The oil shale boom was happening in Rifle at that particular time, so we bought an existing store,” he said.

The Millers wanted something already established, so they bought a store that had opened in downtown Rifle in 1914. They bought it in 1981, and very quickly business boomed.

“We had an incredible amount of business; we were even open at night a few days a week,” Miller said.

Exactly a year after buying the business and six months after buying a new home, Exxon pulled out of its oil shale operations in western Garfield County – an event that would come to be known as Black Sunday .

“Our business got horrible, but we survived it and got through it,” he said.

They drastically cut expenses, had only a few employees, and were careful about what they bought and fine-tuned inventory.

“It was a tough time and it would have been easier to bail out,” Miller said.

A few years later, they purchased Anderson’s Clothing from Monica’s parents in downtown Glenwood Springs.

“I’ve always loved old downtowns, the more quirky the better,” Miller said. “I got very involved in the community. I would never run on anything political, because I thought it might be detrimental to my store, but I have been involved at the retail level on many committees.

He was soon elected chairman of Rifle’s Retail Merchants Committee, where he was honored to serve because he felt like an outsider from Glenwood Springs.

“Basically a drying rack”

Miller was the sports store buyer in Glenwood Hot Springs and had industry experience and contacts and knowledge of the market.

“I’m basically a clothes horse,” he admitted. “I even kept track of what I wore in high school; it was a little obsessive with me. I have always loved fashion. I like design work, cool cars, cool architecture. …it has always fascinated me.

Miller quickly discovered that owning a clothing store in a small town introduced you to a lot of people. He got used to spending more than an hour at the grocery store because he inevitably ran into someone he or his wife knew.

“A small retail store in a small town involves you in the community,” Miller said. “You almost have no choice, but it’s good for you. It’s good to be active in the community.

Shop closure

The Millers decided in early 2020 to close shop, a decision that is mostly down to age, but also lost a battle against the online shopping industry.

“Amazon was just killing us, absolutely killing us,” Miller said. “Once they started doing free freight, we were done. Our business plummeted to the point that we knew we had to get out.

They liquidated the store and sold the building.

Although they encountered bad timing shortly after opening the business in 1981 with the departure of Exxon, they lucked out closing the store just two months before COVID-19 shut down the stores. stores across the country.

“My last day of work was January 11; then in March we all knew what was hitting us,” Miller said. “By the time March came around and we had been retired for maybe six weeks, it was major and it would have killed this store.”

retirement life

What does he like about western Garfield County? Accessible public lands and mountain bike trails so close to Rifle.

“Gary’s enthusiasm for the mountain bike trails in the Rifle area over the years is a big part of how we got here today,” Birkenfeld said. “Without his passion, drive and enthusiasm for adventure cycling in our region and the network of bike-loving friends he has made over the years, I’m afraid to say, but the trails may not exist as of now.”

He also volunteered for many years at the Ute Theater in Rifle, although he took a hiatus due to concerns over COVID-19. He plans to return soon as a volunteer usher at small shows.

Forty years after working for Glenwood Hot Springs, Miller reconnects with the kids he hired to work for him.

“Some of them comment very well on my management abilities during those days, and even though I was very strict, they admire that they knew the guidelines and followed them. It was a very good group,” he said.

As he reflects on his life, one of his greatest accomplishments is raising his son, Wade, who is a well-known sailboat captain in Florida. He also credits his quick wit to the active lifestyle he continues to lead.

“I am 75 years old. You’re not supposed to be together forever, but at least I’m in good shape,” Miller said.

Visual reporter Chelsea Self can be reached at 970-384-9108 or [email protected]

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