A far-reaching effort will ultimately link Ashland to Grants Pass for cyclists and pedestrians.

Anyone who has walked or cycled the Bear Creek Greenway knows the trail stops in Central Point.

In seven years, that could change under a far-reaching effort that will ultimately link Ashland to Grants Pass for cyclists and pedestrians.

About 20 percent of the 30-mile Rogue River Recreation Corridor will be completed in the next two years. Rogue River and Gold Hill already have opened stretches of Greenway in each town.

"It's a grassroots effort," said Jenna Stanke, parks and recreational planner for the Rogue Valley Council of Governments. "It's here because people wanted it."

Volunteers known as the Trail Masters are working with the city of Rogue River to maintain a recently built one-mile section of Greenway next to their town. Other volunteers have donated time and equipment to create the trails or to help with planting efforts.

Focal pieces of the Rogue River Greenway, which is organized independently of the Bear Creek Greenway, are the river and 16 recreational areas such as Valley of the Rogue State Park, with 173 campsites, and the Fort Lane Monument near Gold Hill.

Many of the recreational areas already have been developed, but more are envisioned for fishermen, kayakers and others who would gain access to relatively unknown and scenic areas along the river.

Supporters of the project are receiving encouragement from the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department, which has offered to pay for an easement along the railroad right-of-way if an agreeable price can be reached.

Stanke, working under a $100,000 grant from the state parks department, said that building the trail is just one part of an effort to clean up areas choked with blackberry bushes or underbrush or littered with garbage and other debris along the Rogue River.

New access points and boat launch facilities will open the river to more people under the plan.

"We live so close to this beautiful thing and we can't get to it," she said.

The proposal has aroused some fears. Stanke said residents in Rogue River initially worried that the pathway would destroy their view, but she said those concerns died down once the trail was built.

Anglers have opposed a proposal that a one-mile section of Gold Ray Road be closed to vehicle traffic to make way for the new trail. Residents along Upper River Road are worried about increased congestion along their narrow roadway.

Stanke said every effort will be made to resolve these concerns.

With many hurdles left to clear, the project that first took shape five years ago has been gaining steam.

"Logistically, it's quite a lion," said Shayne Maxwell, chairwoman of the Rogue River Greenway Foundation. "It's a big thing. It hasn't been a cake walk from day one."

She said that despite the obstacles ahead, she hopes to get the trail done within the next seven years along with a management plan.

Much of the land along the proposed Greenway route is owned by Jackson County, state parks or the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Altogether, 15 organizations and government agencies are involved in the project.

Maxwell said the Greenway is being designed to minimize the use of private property and vowed there would not be any government takings.

Maxwell said the idea of the Greenway emerged during her daily walks with some friends.

"All of us ladies — the ones who want to lose weight — ended up walking together," she said.

Because it was difficult to find a place where they weren't competing with traffic, they went to the local school where they would walk in circles around the track.

Maxwell said she remembered walking a public pathway in Marin County, California, in her youth. She thought the Rogue River area needed a similar trail.

As the idea developed, she said local people suggested they wanted to make it as family-friendly as possible. Others suggested linking it to the Bear Creek Greenway, then to Grants Pass.

"Now I've got a guy from Cave Junction who says why not have a link out there," said Maxwell.

She told him she's got her hands full with this project, which still faces some significant challenges.

"We're crossing the Rogue River and that's a big one," she said. Engineers have estimated the bridge, which would be near the sports park in Gold Hill, could cost about $4 million.

Kathy Schutt, planning manager at the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, said the negotiations with the Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad, the owners of the rail line, still have a long way to go before a deal is struck.

Schutt said the state has pledged to financially support the purchase of the easement, but with some limitations.

"We need to know whether or not it's a good price before we make that decision," she said.

The state is particularly interested in the Greenway project because it fits in with long-range plans that are mandated by the National Park Service. The plans are needed in order to make certain projects eligible for federal grants.

"Statewide one of the most important needs is trails, especially trails next to a community," she said.

The level of support for a project of this kind over such a large area is rare, she said. "There is pretty broad-based support," said Schutt.

She said the park service hopes to add small parks along the Rogue that will provide better access for boaters and others.

Rogue River residents and campers at Valley of the Rogue State Park were making use of the trail even before it had been paved.

"It is amazing how many people made that trek even when it was dirt," said Mark Reagles, a board member for the Rogue River Greenway Foundation and Rogue River city administrator. Part of the trail is still dirt and walkers could still be seen using it on Friday.

Reagles said Rogue River High School students plan a fundraiser to help build a small park along the trail southeast of the Depot Street Bridge.

He pointed to a volunteer Friday who was busy cleaning off leaves and debris along the trail after the recent storms.

Dean Stirm, president of the Rogue River Chamber of Commerce, said he expects the trail to pump a little economic vitality into his community.

"It doesn't help a business like mine, which is insurance," he said. "But for people visiting, they're going to think it's a pretty cool place. Maybe they'll move here."

Campers at Valley of the Rogue already are venturing up the trail to get groceries, go to the hardware store or go to a restaurant, he said.

Stirm said he also sees the potential need for alternative transportation that the trail will offer.

Besides, he said, "When you go to a community and have something that's nice it just adds to the community."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.