If you own a bicycle, you've probably ridden at least some part of the Bear Creek Greenway since crews first started laying asphalt nearly 40 years ago. But have you tried going all the way? The full 20 miles from Central Point to Ashland?
It's a workout for both lungs and legs, Greenway aficionados say. But the scenery, fresh air and sense of accomplishment are worth putting the Bear Creek Greenway on your life bucket list.
Lots of locals, such as Kelly Madding, use the Greenway to commute to work.
"I commute from Ashland to Medford on it three times a week and then I take the bus home," says Madding, Jackson County Development Services director. "It's very peaceful and I love it, though I don't love it as much in winter. I especially like no cars. It's an exerting and positive way to start my day."
Starting at Ashland's Dog Park, the Greenway follows Bear Creek through five towns and seven parks. It started becoming a reality 39 years ago, when then-state Rep. Al Densmore of Medford championed legislation to create a 30-mile path from Emigrant Creek to the end of Bear Creek at the Rogue River — and the Oregon Department of Transportation built the first stretch of it, 3.4 miles, in Medford.
The path is now nearly 19 miles, and runs from Oak Street in Ashland to Pine Street in Central Point, then from Upton Road to a new parking lot off Dean Creek Road near Interstate 5's Seven Oaks interchange at Blackwell Hill.
The missing 1.4-mile link through the Jackson County Fairgrounds will be constructed in summer 2013.
There are plans afoot to extend the Greenway through Gold Hill to connect with the Rogue River Greenway, which began with a segment from the Depot Street Bridge to Valley of the Rogue State Park in 2007.
Trying out his new bike in Talent's Lynn Newbry Park, Gary Redden says he prefers the Greenway to streets as "it's safer and I can easily keep in shape doing this and my push-ups."
An avid cyclist and champion of trail systems, Ashland City Councilman David Chapman is a regular user of the Greenway.
Recently, while riding there north of Ashland's Valley View Road, he notes, "It's great if you're not in a hurry. For most people, it's recreation, a place to chat with people and take in the scenery, except where it hugs the freeway."
Asked how she enjoys biking the path, Jenna Stanke, who oversees the Greenway as part of her job with Jackson County parks, stops and takes a picture of a bridge joint, noting with a chuckle, "Well, truthfully, when I'm out here, all I'm doing is looking at the work that needs to be done next."
The bikeway is an endless project because of tree roots and creek drainage that undermine its surface.
The county is testing several repair and paving options, including plastic root barriers, rubber pavers for particularly troublesome spots and concrete and decomposed granite for difficult-to-maintain areas.
The decomposed granite is cheap and plentiful here and is turning out to be a firm, smooth and durable surface, says Stanke.
The Greenway will undergo several rebuilding projects this summer, each lasting just a few weeks. Once a section is resurfaced, the old asphalt is ground up and recycled as a base for the new roadway.
Stanke is building a volunteer Greenway corps of people willing to patrol its length, answering questions, offering bike repair help, picking up litter and providing a security presence.
She also hopes to solve what she says is the No. 1 problem on the Greenway: that most bicyclists don't have a bell warning of their presence, surprising hikers and other bicyclists alike when they pass. Bells are cheap, and Stanke plans to hand them out for free.
Homeless campers are not a rare sight on the Greenway, but Stanke always gives them a cheery greeting and notes, "The perception is a lot worse than the reality about the homeless."
While it may often seem spacious and empty, the Greenway gets a significant amount of traffic. Four hundred "trips" (going and coming back are one trip) were recorded by instruments in Ashland on Jan. 2 alone, she says.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at email@example.com.