Town considers park designations

Oak Creek trustees want to ensure park lands aren't lost in boom

Oak Creek's parks have deep roots in the town's history.

Decker Park, with grassy fields nestled between a hill and a creek, was bought by the town with money from illegal slot machines years ago.

At least that's the story Town Trustee Mike Kien has heard. "Every bar in Oak Creek had an illegal slot machine, and the police department collected the money," Kien said.

The town then bought Decker Park and used it for football fields for the high school team up until the 1970s, he said.

The park got its name after the flood of 1984, which filled businesses and homes with water during spring runoff. After the flood subsided, the park was named after a young man who died in a trench collapse at a nearby mine.

Now the town is trying to formally designate Decker Park, along with other areas historically used for parks, as park land. Once the town trustees vote to make something a park, it can't be sold by a future town board without an election by the people.

At the Town Board's next meeting Feb. 12, town trustees likely will designate Decker Park and the hockey rink as park land and will consider several other properties.

Kien said efforts to formally designate the land for parks started a few years ago when a resident tried to get land included in his historic fence line that belonged to the town. When town staff looked into the issue, they learned the town had not formally designated any parks.

"When this whole thing began, it was 'Let's make the ice rink a park, too,'" Kien said. "Turned out then we didn't have any parks, so it was 'Let's make parks, period.'"

Kien said he is sure that a future town board wouldn't sell Decker Park, as it has been important to the town for years, serving as a meeting place for the town's infamous Labor Day celebrations and for other events such as the Taste of South Routt and various fund-raisers.

The designation would be more of a "feel good" move that simply should be done, he said.

Town Trustee Bill Paxton, 54, has lived in Oak Creek his entire life. He said he supports designating Decker Park and the hockey rink area as park land, as well as any other properties that are on the table.

If the land isn't designated, he worries it could be developed down the road, taking away areas that attract tourists and residents.

"I'm all for it," Paxton said. "Because I got a feeling ... that it's going to break wide open here pretty soon, as far as people wanting to buy and build, and we need the park land to be sure it stays park land."

Other properties that the Town Board could consider designating include Old Town Hall and Bucket Park on Main Street, lots north of Old Town Hall on the hillside, the area where the backwash pond for the old water treatment plant sits and the hill in the south part of town that was used for skiing years ago. Some lots were given to the town contingent to the properties being designated park land.

"I'd vote for all of them," Paxton said. "If anything was ever to come up again in any part of the town, whether it be a walkway or a park ... I'd be the first one to stand up for it."

The Town Board didn't agree to vote for other properties besides the hockey rink area and Decker Park, and some might prove to be more controversial.

For instance, most residents, business owners and town trustees think Bucket Park in downtown Oak Creek is a draw for tourists and a nice feature of the town, while others think it's prime business space that should be used for stores or restaurants.

Mayor Cargo Rodeman said she supports designating Decker Park and the hockey rink as park land, as well as Bucket Park and Old Town Hall and other areas that might come up for designation.

Without those designations, she agreed with Paxton that those parks could be overtaken by development.

"We have several little areas that we consider park land, that if things do start growing in Oak Creek, we don't want to lose those places," Rodeman said.

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