Jeff Meilbeck: People Who Move People, Trying to Climb Mountains

SWTA is fortunate to have Jeff Meilbeck’s share his knowledge in our region.
Jeff Meilbeck’s share his knowledge in the SWTA region.

When Jeff Meilbeck was in sixth grade, he went to the top floor of his Chicago middle school and looked out the window. “I remember closing my eyes and saying, When I open my eyes, those [buildings] are going to be mountains,” Jeff recalls. We are sitting in his office at the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority (NAIPTA), in Flagstaff, where he is CEO and General Manager.

When sixth-grade Jeff opened his eyes, there was still only skyline without a mountain in sight. “And I was like, Well, that’s not gonna work.” He left Chicago at 17, to study Outdoor Recreation at Southern Illinois University—the farthest he could get away from the city while still paying in-state tuition. He wanted to be an Outward Bound instructor, and the curriculum suited him perfectly—he took courses on expedition leadership, campground development, and canoeing. “I’m serious, I took canoeing,” he says, laughing.

In 1986, Jeff took his undergraduate degree to the forests of British Columbia, and then to Denali National Park in Alaska, where he worked as a park ranger. “I show this to people sometimes,” he says, getting up from the table. He walks to a picture frame hanging on the wall next to his desk, and I follow. In the bottom right corner of the frame, there’s Jeff in his mid-twenties, with long, brown, shaggy hair and a full beard, wearing a khaki park ranger uniform. “I probably smelled like patchouli,” he adds.

Today Jeff is clean-shaven, wearing frameless spectacles and a grey suit. His cell phone sits in a holster on his leather belt. If a grizzly came strolling into the office, Jeff—looking at him now—is an unlikely person I’d pick to protect us, but he is definitely the most qualified. “Yeah,” says Jeff, studying the photo. “Times change.”

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