Meet the 5 candidates for Oak Creek Town Board |

Meet the 5 candidates for Oak Creek Town Board

There are three seats on the ballot for the April 5 mail-in election

The town of Oak Creek in South Routt County as seen from an EcoFlight tour of the Yampa Valley with Friends of the Yampa on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Five people are running for three seats on Oak Creek’s town board in the mail ballot election scheduled for next week.

The April 5 mail ballot election asks voters to pick their top three choices of the five candidates, which include three incumbent trustees and two challengers.

Oak Creek Mayor Nikki Knoebel is also up for reelection in April, but she is running unopposed for the role she has held since 2010.

Melissa Dobbins

Melissa Dobbins, 41, said that as she learned more about Oak Creek while looking for a place her family wanted to live long term, she had questions and wanted to play a role in finding the answers.

“The longer we’ve been living here in town, I just don’t want to ask these questions; I want to be part of the action,” said Dobbins, who has lived in Oak Creek for two years.

Dobbins was appointed to the board last fall. She said she wants to continue in the role because she enjoys serving the community. She has been involved in the ski industry since she was 19 years old and started South Routt Yoga, teaching classes in Oak Creek and Yampa.

The issues facing Oak Creek are similar to those plaguing other communities in Routt County, especially when it comes to retaining employees and finding affordable housing, Dobbins said. She would also like to expand recreational opportunities and potentially build a recreation center in Oak Creek.

“Community centers are the heart of communities,” Dobbins said. “I’m still learning a lot about the working pieces of that, but I know our community would love one.”

Bernie Gagne

Bernie Gagne, 58, has been on Oak Creek’s town board for about 13 years, and he is looking to be elected to his fourth consecutive term. He initially joined the board because he felt town leadership wasn’t doing enough.

“I thought there was a vacancy of leadership around that time,” Gagne said. “I wanted to sort of protect the town from overzealous forces, be it police, town administrators … (I see myself as) a watchdog for the community.”

Unlike 13 years ago, Gagne said, there is now significant public interest in the town board’s work, and a lot of good things happening are happening in Oak Creek. He said there is interest in both economic and population growth, and planning development appropriately will be important for the next board.

The town’s comprehensive plan needs to be updated and the board needs to think about where and how the town can grow, Gagne said, adding that many of the board’s decisions, such as for work at Sheriff’s Reservoir, will have long-lasting effects.

“The work we do today is laying the groundwork for what happens 10 and 20 years from now,” Gagne said. “We all just cherish this little town and its character, and we want to preserve it.”

Kelly McElfish

Kelly McElfish, 49, joined Oak Creek’s town board in 2014 because she has always valued getting involved and giving back to the community.

“I want to have a great community for my son to be involved in,” McElfish said.

Beyond finding funding for Sheriff’s Reservoir, McElfish said, the biggest issue for Oak Creek is to have positive revenue growth. She thinks Oak Creek should prioritize revitalizing the downtown area to entice more businesses to town that are looking for a small-town atmosphere.

Improving recreational opportunities in and around town are important to McElfish as well. She said this includes expanding areas around the town’s namesake with more paths and walkways to turn the area into a centerpiece of the community.

McElfish, who owns a special events décor company, works as a corporate trainer and is a raft guide on the Colorado River, also said Oak Creek needs smart growth to ensure the town has enough people and businesses to fund the services and amenities it offers.

“We need to have people to continue to fund these resources that we want,” McElfish said. “Revitalization of downtown has always been at the forefront of what I believe.”

Joe Hragyil

Joe Hragyil, 79, has been visiting Oak Creek for about 20 years, and he moved to town full-time last year. He used to run an HVAC company on the Front Range and is semi-retired.

Hragyil said he wants to be on the town’s board because he feels the town has work to do when it comes to community development.

“We want to grow, but we don’t want to outsize ourselves,” Hragyil said. “We’re on a limited budget, but as many people have moved in here and around here, I can’t see a reason why some of it can’t be dedicated to better streets and better community services.”

The town’s aging infrastructure is particularly important to Hragyil, as most of the roads in town are still gravel. There are also some empty buildings around town that he would support the town trying to get people to develop.

“The time has come to upgrade for the future,” Hragyil said. “A lot of the old folks are pretty stubborn, as I am, and they want to keep it this way, but it can’t be left like it was 100 years ago.”

David Wolfson

David Wolfson, 34, and his family have lived in Oak Creek for about five years after moving from Milwaukee to find a rural, close-knit community. That community is what the Wolfsons love about Oak Creek, and Wolfson said he is running for the town board to ensure it stays that way.

“I want to help do my part to help keep it a good place to live,” Wolfson said.

Wolfson said he is running to support initiatives the town is doing well, pointing specifically to after-school and summer camp programs that provide some child care and keep people connected in the community.

Wolfson works remotely as a quality assurance automation engineer. He said he thinks his financial background will help ensure the town has a strong financial base.

The town board has been working to set aside some money for unexpected expenses, like extra snow removal or to fix town infrastructure, and Wolfson said he would continue to push that as a priority if elected.

“My goals are to keep Oak Creek the nice, small, tight-knit community that it is and make sure that it stays financially stable, so that it keeps doing what it’s doing that’s good,” Wolfson said.

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