Our View: The little town that could | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: The little town that could

When a community of fewer than 900 souls finds itself facing flat population numbers, declining property values and a stretched-to-the-limit revenue stream, it essentially has two options: Give up and allow the prevailing trends to run their inevitable course … or band together in a effort to reverse those trends.

And as the town of Oak Creek once again demonstrated last week, it's amazing how much ordinary people can accomplish when they choose the latter course — when they resolve to close the door on yesterday's setbacks and focus instead on opening the door to a better tomorrow.

As recently as three years ago, the Oak Creek Town Board was in an unenviable position as it struggled with the town's financial solvency. During a June 2012 meeting, board members heard an audit presentation from accountant Tim Mayberry, who described the town as being at a "break-even point" financially.

To make matters worse, a looming property tax revenue fall-off was threatening to bite even deeper into the town's meager coffers. Oak Creek leaders lamented of even finding the $200,000 needed annually to maintain the town's two-person police department.

What a difference three years can make.

Last week, Oak Creek was recognized by Great Outdoors Colorado and the Colorado Lottery with a 2015 Starburst Award for its work in revitalizing a local park. The Starburst Awards are handed out annually by the lottery to various projects across the state, and Oak Creek used the $62,340 it received as part of a $135,040 project to spruce up Decker Park. The improvements included an upgraded basketball court, a new trail near the park, a Frisbee golf course and

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a music stage.

And last week's award wasn't the first time Oak Creek has turned grant fund opportunities into tangible improvements for the town and its residents.

In 2011, it used another GOCO grant to help transform an overgrown, fenced-off parcel used for sewage into a pump track park. It has also availed itself of grant opportunities offered by LiveWell Northwest Colorado to create new parks and trails, complete projects on two recreation master plans, purchase a ski and snowshoe trail groomer and help begin summer and after-school activity programs in the South Routt School District.

Such improvements don't just happen, and they are not the result of the shifting whims of fate, serendipity or even blind luck; they happen when forward-thinking leaders identify a need and plot a course forward and a community unites behind them.

"It was the community working together, and I think that's a beautiful thing to see," noted Barb Parnell, community coordinator for LiveWell Northwest Colorado and an active partner in Oak Creek's revitalization efforts. "We just started tackling those things one by one, together as a community. They don't have any resources at all, financially or otherwise. But they have heart. They were able to accomplish a whole heck of a lot."

Oak Creek Mayor Nikki Knoebel — who, in partnership with LiveWell and Parnell, has spearheaded the effort to further develop the town's outdoor and recreational opportunities — had this to say about the recent GOCO grant and the ongoing improvements it has enabled:

"We were really excited to be able to make upgrades to our park … (Through the grant funds) we were able to add a lot of great, fun, new things in town. Just really excited that they gave us a Starburst Award."

Knoebel's comments, though perhaps understated, suggest a valid point: These grant funds — particularly as they apply to recreational opportunities — have helped and continue to help mountain towns throughout Northwest Colorado undertake tremendously beneficial improvements that, otherwise, might not have been possible, including several projects right here in Steamboat Springs.

But grant funding opportunities alone are nothing more than opportunities until people unite behind a common goal, apply for those grants and then, through hard work and innovative vision, use them to undertake meaningful improvements.

In this respect, Oak Creek — much like "The Little Engine Who Could" in the beloved children's tale of the same name — has repeatedly shown that good things happen when a community and its leaders stretch forth to grasp their dreams. And we congratulate Mayor Knoebel and our neighbors to the southwest for their spirit, drive and determination.

At Issue

Through inspired leadership, community involvement and grant funding, the town of Oak Creek has turned financial uncertainty into ongoing improvements

Our View

We commend Oak Creek leaders and residents for their innovative, determined and successful efforts to foster enduring progress for their town, and in so doing, to advance similar grant-funded opportunities for mountain towns throughout Northwest Colorado