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Meals on Wheels gets a boost with $40,000 Garfield County contribution, as demand increases amid health crisis

A $40,000 grant approved by the Garfield County commissioners on Friday will allow the Grand River Meals on Wheels to sustain its home delivery meal services to homebound clients in western Garfield County.

The vote came as the need for social distancing measures around COVID-19 has driven participation in the program up 20% since early March, according to a county press release.

“Most of our clients are in their 80s and 90s. Every request seems like a heart-wrencher,” GRMoW Director Kaaren Peck said in the release. “In addition to the recent growth in demand for food delivery, our programs largest annual fundraiser, Empty Bowls, was postponed due to COVID, just 10 days before our event.”

Based out of Grand River Health in Rifle, the program provides over 20,000 nutritious meals, and daily contact to homebound seniors, the disabled, and hospice clients from New Castle to Parachute/Battlement Mesa each year.

“This program has been running for 44 years,” Peck said. “We are more than just a meal, we definitely are.”

Given the current public health concerns, precautions due to COVID-19 have forced meal-delivery volunteers to practice social distancing, limiting the contact with clients. According to Peck, the program has had to make adjustments to keep volunteers and clients safe.

“We can’t do the chat at the door that normally happens, so we are setting up phone connections now so that our clients don’t feel the isolation even more. These personal relationships keep our drivers coming back. We say that our clients are our peeps, and we take care of our peeps.”

The program also provides birthday bags with handmade items for clients during their birthday months, and blizzard bags with emergency food and supplies for the winter.

“We even have a 4-H student who makes festive cookies for special holidays,” Peck said. “Our people are well cared for and loved by this community.”

Area prep winter sports athletes earn CHSAA All-State mentions

The state high school basketball tournaments may have been cut short due to the coronavirus outbreak in Colorado, but All-State teams were announced this week and several local athletes’ names are on the list.

In the Class 4A boys selections, Glenwood Springs seniors John Iuele and Mitchell Burt both garnered honorable mention by the Colorado High School Activities Association.

Burt and Iuele led the Demons in scoring, averaging 12.5 and 13.7 points per game, respectively. Burt was also named 4A Western Slope League Player of the Year earlier this month, after Glenwood went 12-0 to win league and finished 22-4 on the season, including a run to the Great 8 in the state tournament.

Joining the two Glenwood players on the state honorable mention list was Rifle High School senior Trey Lujan, who led the Bears with 17.9 points per game this past season.

For the Class 3A boys, Coal Ridge High School senior Austin Gerber was the lone area player to make the honorable mention list. Gerber average 18.9 points per game on 50% field-goal shooting, and was 46% from the 3-point arc.

Making honorable mention for the 4A girls was Glenwood Springs High senior Natalya Taylor, who was the Lady Demons’ scoring leader, shooting 49% and averaging 11.2 points per game. Taylor was the girls 4A WSL Player of the Year this season.

And, for the 3A girls, All-State honorable mention honors went to Roaring Fork junior Maya Lindgren, Grand Valley senior Jordyn Pittman and Coal Ridge junior Taylor Wiescamp. The trio averaged 12.8, 8.1 and 13.5 points per game, respectively, this past season.

The basketball honorees joined several other area winter sports athletes who were previously announced among the All-State selections. They include:

  • Girls Swimming/Diving — Glenwood Springs junior Abbie Scruton (first team), junior Libby Claassen (second team), and senior Juliet McGill (second team)
  • Boys Hockey — Glenwood senior Colter Strautman (second team)
  • Wrestling — Glenwood Springs senior Amos Wilson (182), and Basalt senior Ernesto Lopez (285), both honorable mention.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Re-2 interim superintendent is the sole finalist for position

After nearly six months of planning and working with the community and the Colorado Association of School Boards to find a new superintendent, the school board landed on a candidate to take lead of the district.

The Re-2 district announced last week interim Superintendent Heather Grumley is the sole finalist to replace Brent Curtice, whose contract was terminated in February. 

“This is really big news for us, our staff and our three communities,” Anne Guettler, school board president said.

Grumley has been with the district for 26 years, starting as a teacher and athletic coach before moving into an instructional coach role and later a principal at Graham Mesa Elementary.

Grumley spent the past three years as the assistant superintendent for the district.

“I think it was the perfect storm. A lot of things culminated together at the right time, and I think during the interview process I realized that the people in our district mean the utmost to me,” Grumley said.

“To be able to have the opportunity to lead them and bring stability for our future kind of hit me sideways. I thought to myself, ‘You know what, Heather? Maybe this work is for you,’ and I think the board thought the same thing.”

Grumley’s current salary of $155,000 and was negotiated as part of the move to Interim Superintendent, which was beginning salary that the Board was offering as part of the advertised superintendent search.

The board is negotiating a new contract with Ms. Grumley, that will go into affect when she takes the Superintendency on July 1. 

Guettler said after the district held 16 focus groups that included staff, students and community members one main theme is they like the direction the district is headed and they didn’t want someone coming in and undoing the progress the district has been making.

“A lot happened between our early January focus groups and last week’s interviews. Probably one of the big things is we received our financial audit results,” Guettler said.

“When Heather first came on board she had to deal with a lot of big items and events. We tasked her with educating our staff and community about the significance of our financial state.”

Earlier this month the district selected three finalists and had planned to bring in the candidates for a meet and greet with the public and school site tours, but with the outbreak of COVID-19 in the county events were canceled.

“We had a candidate coming in from out of town. We just felt we really needed to create a different process,” Guettler said.

The district ended up doing online interviews with two candidates after the third dropped out.

“For theirs and everyone else’s safety, we needed to create an online process.” Guettler added.

The online process made it difficult and challenging for the board and the community interviewers to get a feel for either candidate.

“As a board we really listened to that. We recognized that it’s very difficult to hire somebody that hasn’t come into your community,” Guettler said.

“The thing we realized, we just felt like we had someone exceptional in Heather. She is an excellent fit, and we know that we can continue to build a team around her to set our goals and address our problems.”

Grumley said, over her short tenure of leading the district, going through the shutdown of extracurricular activities and the schools in the last two weeks solidified her resolve to put her name in for the position and continue to lead the district into the future.

“She has really impressed our board in the way she has handled and managed all the daily challenges she has been given,” Guettler said.

“We recognized that stability in relationships are the foundation that we are going to build our future on.”

Both Guettler and Grumley agreed that things are moving pretty fast for the district as they move toward an online platform, trying to get the staff up to speed.

The district hopes to create some opportunities for the interview committees, and community members have some access to Heather next week via online, but their main focus is on getting distance learning up and running for their students.

“We have been working diligently, our instructional and tech teams have been working around the clock for at least a week. We want to roll out a training program for all our educators, instructional coaches, department head, and teacher leaders in the upcoming weeks,” Grumley said.

With school facilities closed through April 17, Re-2 hopes to have teachers creating lessons by April 2 for a projected April 6 launch date of online learning. 

The district is working on schedules and delivery of devices to families that do not have the technology at this time.

“The ultimate goal is having 100 percent of our kids learning during this time, and really it’s about taking stock of the community’s needs and finding out our families that are in need of not only the technology and devices themselves, but their internet access and capabilities to the content,” Grumley said.

kmills@postindependent.com

Around the Corner: Parenting during a pandemic

Social distancing is hard for adults, but I can’t imagine what it would be like as a teenager.

When I was that age if I wasn’t working or going to school I would probably be hanging out with my friends. 

If we ever had a break from school we would find something to do, whether it was going for a drive, working on our cars, going to the movies, hunting, fishing, or even hanging at one another’s houses just to pass the time.

Neither my generation, nor my parent’s generation, ever experienced the effects like we are now with the outbreak of COVID-19 taking hold of the world.

With state and county regulations we are supposed to minimize our trips to the store, and with movie theaters closed, and restaurants on take-out and delivery only, most of us lack any interaction with the outside world.

I get it, teenagers are different nowadays, they like to spend countless hours cooped up in their room, playing on their smart gadgets or watching Netflix.

I’m sure I’m not the only parent trying to get their teenager to emerge from the stagnant confines of their bedroom for a little fresh air and some family time.

This is the second week of no school, which would typically be spring break. Children should be playing in the streets, filling the parks, playgrounds and skate parks around the county.

Instead they are all on soft lockdown, helping minimize the spread of coronavirus.

To help do my part I canceled a trip back to Idaho I had planned months ago. My brothers and I were going to help my mom clean up around the farmhouse to get the place ready for summer. After days of deliberation we decided as a family to be safe and postpone the spring-cleaning for another time.

With my normal Saturday workday, writing and editing photos, when Sunday came around I needed some sunshine and crisp Colorado spring air to clear my mind.

It took some prodding and a little coaxing, but come Sunday afternoon the family was out walking and enjoying the mild temperatures.

Practicing the proper 6-foot distancing we strolled around the neighborhood taking in the greening grass and flowers pushing through the soil in front yards.

It was a time we could unplug and forget a little of what is going on in the world. We did cross paths with a few neighbors, and everyone seemed happy just to get a little social interaction even if it was from a distance.

After returning home we helped out a local business by ordering a little take-out and sat down for a family meal before the teenager headed back to her room to hide from her parents who are clearly too embarrassing to hang out with.

kmills@postindependent.com

Supporting seniors, low income residents in western GarCo

With the outbreak of COVID-19 and suspension of programs and community meals Garfield County officials have been scrambling to help seniors and low-income get access to food.

The county is currently working closely with LIFT-UP to help get its Rifle food bank moved to the fairgrounds to expand the workspace and capacity to build bags to distribute to people across the county.

“We will be doing each community two days a week, Parachute for now is just once a week since they have some other services in place,” said Christine Dolan, nutritional program manager for Garfield County Public Health. “They got their first food shipment to the fairgrounds yesterday. They were up and running as of Tuesday.”

The county is still seeing and taking new clients for the Women Infant and CHildren’s (WIC) Nutrition Program, mostly through online services.

New clients can go to coloradowicsignup.org or call 970-945-1377, ext. 2020.

“As all of our programs move forward, if there are greater needs we will adapt to that,” Dolan said.

The county is also working with the Rifle Senior Center on expanding the congregate meal to the rest of the county.

“I’ve been working with Judy Martin, the contact for the senior congregate meal sites. They are now doing drive-up lunch sites,” Dolan said.

With reservations seniors can pick up a meal Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at the Rifle Senior Center. Meals will also be available Wednesday at both Valley Senior Center in Parachute and Silt Town Center with reservations.

Martin, who is the director of Senior Programs, said they are currently serving from parking lots due to the outbreak and implementation of social distancing.

“We started doing our congregative take-out in the Rifle area because the kitchen out of the Rifle Senior Center was willing to hop on and do it,” Martin said.

“As of March 30 we will be covering the entire county, and will start doing meals in Glenwood Monday and Friday, and on Wednesday in Carbondale.”

Dolan said seniors need to make reservations ahead of time, and if they are unable to get to the drive-up sites they are making some provision for delivering to people that have previously been part of the meal program.

“If they indicate that they need food, Judy will make sure that happens when they come to the center,” Dolan said.

The program is not intended to be a substitute for Grand River Health’s Meals-on-Wheels program. It is to help people who are normally part of the program, making sure they get their lunch since they can’t gather anymore.

“We were averaging 40-50 out of Rifle three days a week, 50 out of Silt, and 65 out of Parachute, and 17 out of New Castle Monday,” Martin said

“I’m expecting an increase as the length of time goes on, and folks are really staying isolated.”

The center announced it will change from hot meals to cold at the end of March, so it can maintain the correct temperature and serve healthy meals to residents.

“Every day when we serve lunch we have had seniors thank us for doing it, because they didn’t know what they were going to be able to do,” Martin said.

Volunteer Marge Gerloff prepares to delivering meals for the Grand River Health Meals on Wheels program Wednesday in Rifle.
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MEALS ON WHEELS UP 20 PERCENT

Kaaren Peck, director of volunteer services at Grand River Health in Rifle, has picked up the last two weeks for the Meals on Wheels program with a 20 percent increase in clients.

“Right now we are up to 90 clients from New Castle to Parachute, and our routes are pretty much maxed out,” Peck said.

With the new clients they have started to take names for a waiting list.

The program helps homebound seniors, disabled and residents recovering from surgeries.

In order to accommodate the new guidelines with the COVID-19 outbreak, Peck said they have changed how drivers pick up and deliver meals.

“Our drivers wait in their car in a loading zone, and we bring the cooler out to them. Normally they would wait in the café, but we don’t want them to set foot in the hospital just on the chance they could pick COVID(-19) up,” Peck said.

Drivers are wearing medical masks now and taking extra precautions to keep them and their clients safe.

Clients are now called when the drivers are close, meals are dropped off at the door with a knock, and the drivers head back to the car before the client comes out to get the meal.

“It changes things up. Part of why we do Meals-on-Wheels is to break the isolation, and they are not getting a good dose of that right now,” Peck said.

“All they are getting is a wave from a car, but at least they know someone is out there caring for them.”

The program had a record year in 2019 with 20,000 meals delivered, and Peck said with this 20 percent increase just in the past two weeks they may have to change things up and add routes if it increases.

kmills@postindependent.com

Like most restaurants, WingNutz Bar and Grill is forging a new identity in the face of COVID-19

Grady Hazelton hustles to his truck to make another delivery Saturday. Deliveries are a first for WingNutz as they navigate the new normal in the food business. (Kyle Mills / Post Independent)


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With last week’s order from Gov. Jared Polis to shut down all dine-in restaurants, many local establishments have been sent reeling.  

For WingNutz Bar and Grill owner Grady Hazelton, it has been a kick in the gut, but he knows that everyone is in the same situation.

“We’ve never done delivery before, but now we are doing delivery and take-out. We changed our hours up a little bit so we can operate with less staff,” Hazelton said.

Sam Woolston, one of the 8 full time employees being kept on during the dine-in closure, makes cookies to hand out to customers to show appreciation for their loyalty. (Kyle Mills / Post Independent)
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That is one of the most unfortunate parts about it for Hazelton — with business down 50-60% from normal he had to let all his part-time staff go for the time being.

“Some people we just had to say we will see you when this all over,” Hazelton said.

“We try to take care of everybody and take care of our group, but there is only so much we can do,”

Running a staff of 8-10 currently, Hazelton is splitting the hours they are open between the regular fulltime employees, which he said is about half of what they are used to.

Hazelton greets a customer picking up an order at the new walk-up window. When Hazelton opened WingNutz nearly 15 years ago he covered up the window. The building was originally home to a drive through fast food restaurant.(Kyle Mills / Post Independent)


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Hazelton opened WingNutz back in 2005, and has had a loyal following for nearly a decade-and-a-half now.

“We’ve had employees and customers that have been here since we opened,” Hazelton said.

With last week’s announcement, Hazelton uncovered the old drive-up window that was used by the previous owners of the building.

“All the sudden it came in handy,’ Hazelton said.

Practicing social distancing Jordan Johnson, and Robert Campbell wait for their food orders Saturday outside WingNutz Bar and Grill in Rifle. (Kyle Mills / Post Independent)  


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Hazelton said he had a feeling that this was coming, and had been prepared for the worst by only ordering 25 percent of his usual food orders in case a full shut down comes from the state.

Working with his customers on whatever they feel confortable with, Hazelton has plenty of options for them, whether it is coming inside the restaurant to pick-up their order, walking it out to them, using the window or delivery.

A customer walks into WingNutz to pick-up an order. Hazelton said he is trying to make things convenient to his customers as possible with the new rules of no dining-in. (Kyle Mills / Post Independent)
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“We’ve always taken it serious, making sure we wash and sanitize our hands, now we are just doubling up,” Hazelton said.

“We were going to do what we can as long as they let us, and long as we feel safe.”

Hazelton and Woolston help customers during the lunch hour at WingNutz Bar and Grill. Hazelton said that business is down around 50-60 percent since the state wide closure. (Kyle Mills / Post Independent)
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kmills@postindependent.com

YouthZone adjusts its operations to limit personal contact in response to COVID-19 concerns

YouthZone has taken measures to limit person-to-person contact while continuing to provide its mental health counseling, prevention and intervention services to youth and their families.

“These are unprecedented times in our lifetime,” Charla Belinski, Board of Directors Vice President, said in a news release outlining service changes.

“For many of us, the closest comparison we have is the days following the attacks on 9/11,” she said. “There is one defining difference. After 9/11, people gathered. The corona virus has put us in isolation, stockpiling supplies, and desperately avoiding people.

“When humans are isolated, we are more prone to depression, anxiety, fear, loneliness and harmful behavior.”

According to the release, “YouthZone’s board of directors and staff remain in contact with schools, courts, colleagues and public health in the mutual effort to keep on top of news, directives and events surrounding COVID-19.

“Being responsible to our community means YouthZone is limiting group interactions until further notice.”

As a result, YouthZone offices are closed, except by appointment. In the meantime, telehealth and phone connections are being used to allow staff to continue working with clients.

Local courts and law enforcement are also making adjustments, including rescheduling juvenile court proceedings to later dates to limit people’s exposure to the virus, according to the release.

“YouthZone will respond as needed to these limitations,” the release states.

“YouthZone encourages everyone to do what you must to protect your health and those you love.

“The staff and board also encourage you reach out in a new way to say hello to your neighbor, order takeout, go outdoors and live your lives the fullest extent you can while taking precautions.

“Happiness, not fear, will be the best antidote as we work to keep the virus contained.”

Around the Corner: Things are a bit different this week

I’ve been in journalism for 20 years now, and this is a first for me.

I can’t recall anything that halted so many things and changed the daily lives of residents of a county, state, country and even the world.

The only thing that even comes close were the events of Sept. 11, 2001, which affected the whole country, but didn’t stop us from going to the newspaper office the next day.

I have spent the last five days working out of my home office, which also doubles as my garage.

With the COVID-19 pandemic taking over the news, many of the events and features I typically cover for the pages of the Citizen Telegram are postponed or even canceled.

If it weren’t for the occasional pedestrian and rush of cars down Railroad Avenue while I’ve been out walking the streets, Rifle would feel almost like a ghost town.

I’ve spent the last few days scrambling — I had already interviewed Suzy Bogguss for a preview of her scheduled show Friday, an event which is being rescheduled for later in the year after the order of no large gatherings from Gov. Jared Polis.  

Many of my sources are busy trying to set contingency plans for their businesses, schools and children as they get used to the new daily protocol in Garfield County.

I know my daily routine has changed drastically, as my daughter grows stir-crazy while she sits idle with no school or extracurricular activities to occupy her time.

Daily check-ins with my mom have been more regular, making sure she is feeling OK and the family back home is well.

As you have probably noticed with our sister paper the Post Independent, we have suspended the calendar during this time of social distancing.

This week’s edition will be a bit smaller than usual, and filled with press releases and schedule changes for the city and county.

I have been able to get out and shoot a few pictures to cover this week’s paper, of projects like the hospital expansion that pushes forward. 

With the lack of events taking place I would like the people of western Garfield County to reach out to me with story ideas or human interest stories as we navigate our new reality here in western Colorado.

kmills@postindependent.com

Photo Essay: Slowing the Spread

Residents and businesses take steps to prevent  further outbreak in western Garfield County after two presumptive positives of the novel coronavirus come back in the county. The new social distancing order has all schools, events and gatherings suspended or canceled throughout the county until further notice.  

A sign greets Brickhouse Italian Restaurant customers explaining the take-out or delivery-only options after the statewide shutdown of dine-in restaurants. (Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram)
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Garfield Re-2 bus driver Cheri Ruark hands out lunches to children at Davidson Park Wednesday in Rifle. The school district has been handing out breakfast and lunches to students during the extended spring break. (Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram)

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WingNutz advertises its pickup window for customers that would like to pickup up to-go orders. All dine-in restaurants are closed in the county except for take-out and delivery. (Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram)
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GarCo Vegetation Management looks to capture weeds

Garfield County Vegetation Management is looking for pictures from residents for its annual “Weeds of Garfield County” calendar that is distributed for free in the county. 

This year the county is holding a photo contest for residents — the winner will not only have their photo featured in the 2021 calendar but will also receive $300.

The county has been producing the calendar for five years to educate the residents of Garfield County about noxious weeds and how they can help manage them.

 “Our main focus is noxious weed management throughout Garfield County,” Program Coordinator and Garfield County Vegetation Management Sarah LaRose said.

“We try to do a lot of different types of education and outreach, and encourage landowners to be more active in noxious weed management on their properties as well as identification and understanding what noxious weeds are versus your common garden weeds.”

Garfield County Vegetation Management covers 900 miles of roads in the county, hiring two seasonal workers every year to spray for noxious weeds in the right of way.

Anthony said some of the top noxious weeds in the county include Russian knapweed, whitetop, tamarisk, Russian olive, and Scotch thistle. 

“The Russian Knapweed seems to be pretty impactive to landowners and folks that are trying to grow hay or have livestock. It is toxic to horses and can give them a chewing disease if they eat a lot of it over time,” Vegetation Manager for Garfield County Steve Anthony said.

A closeup of Myrtle spurge, which can be found all over Garfield County. (Todd Patrick)
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Chewing disease is caused by toxins in the weeds, making horses unable to bite-off  and chew their food. 

Anthony said Russian knapweed is commonly found on Silt Mesa between New Castle and Rifle, and also south of Silt in the Dry Hollow and Mamm Creek area.

“They form monocultures, which means that’s the only thing that can grow,” Anthony said.

“If you’re trying to grow something beneficial, these weeds compete for soil, nutrients, water and light. They are going to impact what you’re trying to grow; it’s going to crowd that out.”

The county currently has two programs to help residents, the first for tamarisk and Russian olive. LaRose said the other one is for forbs or broadleaf weeds such as knapweed, and thistles that property owners might have.

“Both of these programs are cost-share, so the landowners basically get reimbursed for noxious weed management,” LaRose said.

For removal of tamarisk and Russian olive the county does site visits with the landowners, to verify it is a good project for the county to do, before a crew is contracted to do all the work.

“They do all the cutting, spray the stumps, slash pile management, and the landowners are responsible for paying 25 percent of total project cost, then Garfield County pays the remaining 75 percent,” LaRose said.

The county partners with the conservation districts for the other cost-share program, and landowners have the option of doing the management themselves or contracting it out.

“Once either way is said and done, they have to fill out an application and turn it back in with their receipt. If they do the DIY method they are eligible for up to 75% reimbursement, if they hire a contractor they are eligible for 50% depending on our budget,” LaRose said.

LaRose added that it requires a site visit by someone that is qualified and to vouch for the landowner, making sure they are not requesting more money back than they should be receiving.

The county is getting ready to start its “Purge the Spurge” program, which helps eradicate myrtle, cypress, and leafy spurge, which are common ornamental noxious weeds.

“A lot of people have received them in the past from nurseries, and they don’t realize they are noxious weeds,” LaRose said. “We encourage people to pull those out of their gardens or wherever they find them.”

For every 13-gallon bag residents can receive a voucher for native plants at Mountain Valley Nursery in Glenwood Springs, they in turn receive a voucher for native plants the nursery has.

Anthony said that myrtle spurge can be found all over Garfield County.

“It’s a list A, which means it needs to be eradicated. It is pretty toxic, especially to young kids,” Anthony said. 

“It was brought into neighborhoods that were built in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, as a kind of landscape plant, that was promoted because it is a succulent and fire retardant.”

Anthony added that spurge purges are a good way to encourage people to get rid of it on their own, and earn a little reward.

Both Anthony and LaRose agree through the calendar they can help educate residents of what weeds they have on their property and what they can do to best eradicate them.

LaRose said they are already working on next year’s calendar, and residents have until July 16 to enter for the chance to win $300.

“I’d really like to encourage people to include pictures of the river, landscapes, hay fields, tractors, wildlife, because we can really tie a story into any type of picture,” LaRose said.

kmills@postindependent.com