Steamboat Springs Editor's note: This story has been updated from its original version to clarify where funding for the project came from and for what it was used.
Since 2003, a pair of old water plant settling ponds has sat untouched at Williams Street and Arthur Avenue, enclosed by a barbed-wire fence to keep people and animals away.
Mark Wertheimer lives near that corner and said he sees local children riding their bikes out in the streets nearby, as if they’re waiting for a place to go.
Community members hope that by the end of summer, they’ll have one, as the town of Oak Creek plans to transform the old settling ponds into a new community recreation hub.
“We thought, wouldn’t it be cool if this were someday an asset instead of an eyesore?” Wertheimer said.
With the help of Great Outdoors Colorado, LiveWell Northwest Colorado, the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps and a group of enthusiastic local residents, Oak Creek is getting started on its Recreation Master Plan, getting projects under way that were first outlined almost 10 years ago in the town’s Comprehensive Plan.
Wertheimer, the associate director of Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, got his organization involved, receiving a $25,645 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado for a crew to spend four weeks this summer working on the new park and also cutting a short hiking trail up behind the Tracks and Trails Museum.
LiveWell also granted $17,000 for materials for the trails project, and two weeks ago, the town learned it had received $45,000 from GOCo for the park project, as well.
Oak Creek Mayor Nikki Knoebel said the two projects — the park and the trail — are just the beginning of a larger vision for the town.
“It’s important people have something close to home to get out and be active,” Knoebel said. “And we want to offer more things for the kids to do. We really want to make this a family-friendly community.
“It’s about kids, the families and bringing people together.”
Kicking into gear
On Friday at the settling ponds site, the evidence of the transformation already was visible. Public works employees had filled in the ponds with dirt, and a Rocky Mountain Youth Corps crew had taken down all of the fencing.
Public works employee Stu Hassell leaned on his shovel and looked out over the stretch of brown dirt, which to him is a fresh canvas for a project he’s been dreaming about for years.
Included in the GOCo grant are funds to design and build a pump track — a circular dirt bike track with rollers to sustain speed without pedaling.
“The best thing about a pump track is really anyone can ride them,” Hassell said. “From little kids on a push bike to as old as you want to do it. It’s a great skill builder.”
Hassell knows a big part of his job is recreation, as he also grooms the cross-country ski trails the town launched last winter.
LiveWell also provided the grant for the groomer, which kick-started the process of reconsidering the recreation plan and how to implement the first phase of updates once the snow melted.
“Working for the town and seeing what the kids around here are doing with nothing to do … we need a place for kids to go,” Hassell said.
In addition, the town received a skate ramp by donation, which Knoebel said could be part of a future skatepark at the ice rink, and there are tentative plans to offer bouldering rocks at the new park.
Just the beginning
The Rocky Mountain Youth Corps crew has been working on the new Noon Whistle Trail for only four days, but already the young workers are seeing the impact their work is making on the community.
“Just this week that the trails have been going, we’ve seen a lot of folks cutting through here,” Wertheimer said. “They’ve already been meandering up this trail.”
He said many visitors also stop by to peruse the museum and show interest in making the half-mile hike up the hill.
Knoebel said the town plans to involve the whole community in cleanup days, and local children will have a hand in the park construction through the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps’ Service Learning Institute.
Eventually, the town plans to continue to expand the trail system and revamp the creek-side area at Decker Park, among other projects.
And though funding and easements might be obstacles, community engagement won’t be.
“This is part of why I live here,” said Wertheimer, who moved to Oak Creek two years ago. “There’s people who care; there’s people who want to take the time and the sweat to make things happen.”
To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@SteamboatToday.com