Small town; big vision

Mayor of Oak Creek pushing for big changes to improve appeal, safety

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Spring runoff came fast and heavy in Oak Creek in May 1984. It soaked downtown to its core, covering storefronts and inundating homes.

Oak Creek Mayor Cargo Rodeman remembers driving near Decker Park with her children. The water came up to the windows of her truck.

"My kids just loved it," she said. "It was almost swimming in your car."

One outcome of the flood was a commemorative T-shirt residents designed that read, "I survived Oak Creek Main Street, 1984."

Another was a new look for downtown, complete with new streetlights and sidewalks.

Now, Rodeman is trying to get a grant to redo downtown's Main Street once again.

The project, Rodeman said, would make Main Street safer, attract visitors, liven up downtown and create the image the town wants to portray.

The grant application was submitted to the Colorado Department of Transportation's enhancement program Friday, and Rodeman said she expects to hear whether the town received the grant by early February.

The grant would allow the town to extend sidewalks, install new street lights and add tree grates and flower barrels in front of Main Street businesses.

"It would make Main Street look like what I feel Oak Creek really is: welcoming, inviting, warm and friendly," Rodeman said. "Right now, Main Street is kind of blah.

"All little towns have their own personality. I don't think our Main Street depicts our town."

The town's sidewalk system ends at Bell Avenue in front of Bonfiglio Drug, and at the intersection of Main Street and Lincoln Avenue near Pocket Park.

With the grant, sidewalks could continue to Routt County Road 27 at one end of town and to the entrance to Soroco High School at the other. The sidewalk's total length would be about three-quarters of a mile.

Along the new stretches of sidewalk, streetlights would be placed every 160 feet. In town now, streetlights are about 80 feet apart.

Sidewalks might be widened 1 foot on either side to make room for the tree grates. In town, Rodeman envisions cherry blossom trees, which have narrow roots and trunks that wouldn't hurt the sidewalks. They also have gorgeous blossoms in the spring, which turn to green leaves in the summer and big, fat cherries free for picking.

Wider sidewalks would mean business fronts would be farther away from Main Street, Rodeman said. Now, when shoppers step out of a restaurant or store, they are only a few feet away from traffic on Colorado Highway 131, she said.

Lights also could be moved back and set farther away from Main Street, which not only would look nice but could protect them from being hit by cars, she said.

In a typical year, the town spends several thousand dollars -- sometimes more than $10,000 -- to replace lights that are hit, Rodeman said.

"They're only 2 inches from the curb," she said. "People hit them all the time."

Rodeman knows from experience; she once hit a street light near The Colorado Bar. The side of her car sideswiped it as she turned the corner. She said she could still see it falling and that she's thankful no one was walking near the pole at the time.

The grant also would allow the town to replace all street signs, possibly installing Rodeman's favorite design: black signs with white lettering and a silhouette of a miner.

The project has an estimated cost of about $500,000. The town would have to provide 20 percent of that amount.

Oak Creek is a good candidate for the grant, she said, because it sits on a main transportation corridor between two ski areas.

Along with the grant application to beautify Main Street, Rodeman hopes to pursue other grants to build an around-town trail. The trail would cost about $800,000 and would circle town and provide expansive views of the area and a sense of the town's history, she said.

One trailhead would be at the upper parking lot at the high school, but there would be many other access points. The trail, which Rodeman said she hopes would be paved to allow children to in-line skate and skateboard on it, would be complemented by benches and picnic areas.

The trail was planned with the help of a grant from the Colorado Center for Community Development.

Old Town Hall, which houses the Historical Society of Oak Creek and Phippsburg and soon will be home to a museum, also could hold a visitors' center and public restrooms.

The trail could entice people driving through town, she said, just as historical Bucket Park does now.

"Any time of the year, in the rain and the snow, you see people, especially families, at the park checking out that big bucket," Rodeman said.

If the town doesn't receive the Main Street grant, Rodeman doesn't know exactly what her next steps would be, but she does know that the project won't be abandoned.

"If it isn't (granted), we won't give up," she said.

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