Our view: The little town that could
We were both pleased and proud to learn last week that our neighbor to the south, the tiny town of Oak Creek, was recently named by Colorado Parks and Wildlife as 2017’s Northwest Region Partner of the Year. According to CPW’s website, the town was recognized for its “unwavering, dedicated public service to encourage youth to be outdoors and form invaluable lifelong skills.”
CPW instituted the Partners in the Outdoors Initiative in 2012 as a way of bringing diverse outdoor interests together to recognize and encourage their collective impact on responsible recreation, stewardship and conservation leadership in the state of Colorado.
Oak Creek was nominated for the award by Stagecoach State Park staff members Craig Preston and Cory Spakes, the latter of whom said, “The town of Oak Creek specifically has stepped in to foster youth experiencing outdoor recreation.”
It is impressive enough that a town of fewer than 900 souls was selected for the award from a pool of other nominees that included much larger and better-funded towns, cities and organizations. But even more impressive are the circumstances that led to the award in the first place, circumstances that might easily have been seen as negative.
A bit of background.
Faced with declining enrollment and a series of budgetary crises, the Soroco School District Board of Education in May 2016 voted to implement a four-day school week for the 2016-17 academic year, a move directors hoped would save the district $12,000 to $15,000 in annual costs, while helping to attract and retain personnel and students who might be interested in a shorter week. Though the shift was supported by some 75 percent of staff, parents and community members surveyed, and though, in making the move, Soroco joined nearly half the state’s other school districts in a four-day-per-week calendar, the change was seen by some as one more nail in the district’s — and, by extension, the town’s — coffin. And it might well have turned out to be just that.
Instead, town and school leaders rolled up their sleeves in a collaborative effort to not only adapt to the change, but also leverage it into a positive for the community. Teachers and staff began using some of the free Fridays to help align expectations for kindergarten through 12th-grade students from one year to the next.
As for the students — who suddenly found they had Fridays off — the town of Oak Creek, in partnership with the district, enhanced its existing after-school program to offer all-day programming on Fridays for elementary students. Specifically, this programming included outdoor activities at Stagecoach State Park, such as fishing, survival skills, boating safety, archery and water safety.
The youngsters also participated in environmental stewardship by picking up litter in the park, promoting such stewardship for future generations.
The Friday program enhancements also led to an increase in participation in the town’s existing summer day camps, which saw a 50-percent increase in 2016 compared to the previous summer.
So, from this potential negative, the Oak Creek community managed to find and implement an enormous positive, which ultimately led to its receipt of the award.
In making the nomination, Stagecoach State Park staff wrote, “If not for the town of Oak Creek and the support they receive from area partners, these programs would not be possible. Without these programs, many of these kids would spend their summers indoors playing video games or wandering the streets around town getting into trouble.”
Awards are nice, but they are only reflections of the actions of people like Oak Creek Mayor Nikki Knoebel and Town Administrator/Clerk Mary Alice Page-Allen, who are taking an active role in shaping their community’s future through creative, collaborate problem solving and a willingness to embrace, new things.
We congratulate Oak Creek and the South Routt community for their well-deserved recognition, and we encourage our neighbors down south to continue their innovative and creative efforts to take charge of their own destiny.
With an attitude like that, we see a promising future ahead for the little town that could.
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