Oak Creek’s weekend-long festivities commemorate heritage, community | SteamboatToday.com

Oak Creek’s weekend-long festivities commemorate heritage, community

Jack Weinstein

— After digging for change in the dirt at Decker Park on Monday afternoon during Oak Creek's annual Labor Day festivities, 4-year-old Kelsey Bryant emerged with $8.75 in found quarters, 50-cent pieces and dollar coins.

She was one of several children who participated in the game, just one of many weekend activities that honored the South Routt town's mining heritage.

Kelsey said she found enough money to buy a soda, but there was another reason she liked looking for coins.

"I like it when you see the sparkles before you dig," she said.

South Routt historian Mike Yurich said Oak Creek's Labor Day celebration has been held since at least 1913, based on photographs he's found of union officials speaking on Main Street. He said the event originally allowed the union to address its members when Oak Creek was a mining town of more than 2,000 people.

The event expanded to two days in the 1950s, after the mines closed and the unions left town, and to three days in the 1960s, Yurich said. He said throughout nearly its entire history it has included games in the park, from foot races for children of different ages to three legged races and other activities.

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"One of the neatest things they continued from the union days are the events at the park, and the events at the park are basically for the kids," he said.

Kelsey's mother, Kay Lynn Bryant, said Oak Creek's Labor Day festivities are a family tradition. In addition to her family — the Rossis, who first came to Oak Creek in the late 1880s — her mother and three of her brothers and their children also took part in Monday's activities.

"We came when we were little kids," she said. "We always tried to come. People come from all over to try to meet up with their friends for Labor Day."

The weekend's festivities began Friday night and continued through the weekend to Monday, which started with the annual Labor Day parade down Main Street. Longtime residents Mary Deppe and Paul Rutledge were honored as grand marshals and led the procession of about 30 parade participants including local emergency services personnel, businesses and organizations, and student groups.

The activities continued at Decker Park, which included the grease pole event. Participants try to scale a pole about 12 feet high and covered in grease for a cash prize. No one scaled the pole as of Monday evening, allowing contestants to vie for twice as much money next year.

Mayor Nikki Knoebel said the town's Labor Day committee has been planning the event since February. She said the annual celebration was about more than just commemorating Oak Creek's mining heritage.

"First of all, look around," she said. "You can see all the people who came out. It brings the community together after a long summer. You can feel the energy and excitement. It's just a great time."

To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

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