The Waters Creek Trail is such a Cadillac of trails — wide, comfortable and soft on the curves — that its cardinal feature should have been obvious, although it didn't hit us until later: It's wheelchair-accessible. A precious thing that, and unfortunately rare.
This accessible gem of a path tours a lovely little corner of our world, affording the feel of the deep forest to visitors 15 minutes from the bustle and traffic of Grants Pass.
Hikers on the Waters Creek Trail have Larry Cosby of Grants Pass to thank for the trail's design and construction. Cosby, of the U.S. Forest Service, worked at the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Oregon Caves National Monument before landing in Southern Oregon, where he was instrumental in the creation of the Sam Brown Campground in Briggs Valley, the Big Pine Interpretive Trail and the nearby Limpy Creek Trail.
Cosby died at 49 doing what he loved, working on the Snail Back Trail near the Illinois River. At a celebration of his life, his family and friends were joined by people who said they just loved his trails. We're told there's a geocache site at Waters Creek with similar messages.
Drive through Grants Pass on Highway 199 toward Crescent City, Calif., and through Wonder. A half-mile past the Wonder store, spot the brown Waters Creek sign, then Waters Creek Road. Turn right. It's about 21/2 miles of narrow road to the trailhead. There's an outhouse and the remains of an interpretive sign abused by uni-browed miscreants with way too much time on their hands.
The trail follows the creek upstream, then quickly loops back, skirting the side of the hill. Notice the diversity. There are ponderosa pine, Douglas fir (some of them 5 feet in diameter), alder, myrtle, white oak, madrone, broadleaf evergreens, sugar pine and something that looks like, but not quite, holly.
There are four or five species of fern in just the first bit of trail. Mosses cover tree trunks, and new life sprouts from the down and dead stuff. There are a lot of wet spots that support frogs, newts, salamanders and other amphibians. We're told that come spring, there are bachelor buttons and other goodies, although the little rivulets dry up. In the dry time, small ponds carved in rock hold just enough water to enable vulnerable young fish to survive.
We picked some bay leaves to throw into soups, stews and other yummies after removing what appear to be some kind of bug eggs.
The trail soon loops back in the original direction. At this point, if you were representing it on paper, you'd have a line going up, looping down, then curving back up. Imagine that line as the string on a balloon. Now picture the balloon as an elongated amoeba with an irregular outline, the string tied onto its bottom. That's the shape of this easy, 31/2-mile loop.
You can do the whole loop or turn back at any point.
"It's beautiful," said Augie Muñoz, of Grants pass, who was walking with wife, Rachel, and sons Josef, 5, and Nolan, 3.
"And it's really close," added Rachel.
At various spots, smaller foot paths lead off the main trail. Stout, wooden foot bridges and benches add a civilized note. The quality of the work is impressive considering the whole thing is out in the woods. At natural narrows, the trail has been improved with thick, pressure-treated posts sunk into the earth and hardy, lumber retaining walls that enable the path to retain its width.
One imagines workers trucking lumber in behind little ATVs or dirt bikes.
Did I mention that the trail is gravel surfaced and sports interpretive signs along its length? Unlike that sign by the road, the ones along the trail have not been vandalized, suggesting perhaps that the miscreants, although having lots of time on their hands, are too lazy to walk a few yards to commit their beetle-browed depredations.
Stay generally left and you'll wind around the whole thing and eventually find yourself back on the string part of the path heading back to your car. You'll probably have had a good time.
Reach freelance writer Bill Varble at firstname.lastname@example.org.