A short span of dried-out canal and cement pillars near the old Gold Ray Dam powerhouse may not look like much at first, but when Gold Hill Parks and Recreation Coordinator Rob Lowe looks at it, he sees progress.
When a 4-foot fence and a concrete walkway are installed this week over the bones of an old bridge, a series of trails established in 2004 — which until now have come to a virtual dead end — will open up new horizons for runners, bikers and river gazers.
Finagling an old lock across an ailing span of gate, Lowe said he can hardly wait for a section of old chain-link fence to be removed, which will turn the dead-end trail into a loop trail and open up an additional dozen acres along the Rogue River for everything from biking and jogging to fishing and berry picking.
"To guys like me, it makes me crazy to have park land, and you're telling people you can't go there," said Lowe, noting that he and neighbors of the Gold Hill Sports Park who advocated for the loop trail had helped "weed whack" to remove blackberries and widen existing footpaths.
"Joggers and runners have been after me for years to give them a loop," he said. "We're finally seeing it happen."
Tucked near the section of trail that lies just beyond the Little League field parking lot, the new section of trail will cross the old canal, where a "trolley" once serviced the old powerhouse.
Lowe said the loop will add interest and diversity to the trail system while increasing river access. With fence posts already in place, Lowe estimates the project will be completed in the next week. While the path will be 4 feet wide to begin with, the area eventually will be covered, possibly with decking, to allow equipment to be moved over the canal.
Lowe said he hopes to see the powerhouse used by the community, possibly for picnicking at first, then maybe for something more commercial in the future, such as a brew pub.
For now, getting bipeds and bikers across the canal is the focal point.
"Historically, it's an interesting site, but for right now I have this. And this is pretty great progress for our little town," Lowe said.
"This is something that is inexpensive and accessible, and it's been in the trails plans for years," he added. "This is a project that gives us a whole lot of bang for the few bucks we have."
Once complete, Lowe said, crews will install signage for the former "Powerhouse Falls," which has an official new moniker — Ti'lomikh Falls — recognizing its ties to the Takelma People.
The new section of trail will be dedicated as the Ti'lomikh Falls Loop Trail.
Nearby property owner Stephen Kiesling, who is working to establish a kayak training school and who helps host a salmon ceremony each year for the Takelma, said the loop connection was "a long time coming" for citizens who want to access trails and the waterfront.
A member of the city Parks Committee, Kiesling worked with Lowe to clear out blackberries and widen the footpath.
"We still need to clear out blackberries," Kiesling said, "but it's a great cross-country running course, because you get to do a loop rather than having to run to the end, and turn and go back. And it opens up another dozen acres of really nice riverfront.
"Getting that bridge open is really the beginning of eventually figuring out what to do with the old powerhouse and expanding the city's parks system in other ways," he added. "In a small way, it's a huge step forward."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.