Thick stands of blackberries are both a bane and a blessing for Medford's Red Lion Inn.

Thick stands of blackberries are both a bane and a blessing for Medford's Red Lion Inn.

David Hymas, the hotel's general manager, would like to remove the blackberries and restore the riparian zone along Bear Creek to its natural state. If the blackberries are removed, however, he fears that homeless people who sleep under the nearby Fourth Street bridge over the creek will disturb his guests.

"The blackberries are a natural barrier and I can't have those cleared until we get the (homeless) situation taken care of under the bridge," he said.

Hymas, a member of the Heart of Medford Association, said building a proposed water park at Hawthorne Park would help revitalize downtown. He said a water park would not only be a major draw for downtown Medford, but would help overcome the impression — particularly among women — that walking through Hawthorne Park is dangerous.

Over the past three years, there have been two stabbing incidents in Hawthorne Park. In May 2009, two homeless men were stabbed. In July 2007, another man was stabbed.

"We're all talking about revitalizing downtown, but it seems like everything is going away from downtown," he said.

City Council members have applauded the Red Lion Inn for agreeing to help pay for blackberry removal as part of a plan to restore Bear Creek where it runs through downtown. The council also expressed interest in the Red Lion's proposal to build a pedestrian bridge across Bear Creek.

The council already has committed money to restore Bear Creek as part of a plan to make it the centerpiece of downtown revitalization.

The council recently allocated $1,500 to finish a runoff filtration project. Untreated storm runoff that formerly flowed from the Interstate 5 viaduct downspouts directly into the creek now travels through gravel to slow it down. Plantings of willow, spirea and black hawthorns capture pollutants in their roots.

Fifteen urban swales beneath the viaduct will strain oil and other chemicals from storm water runoff before it flows into Bear Creek, a major Rogue River salmon-spawning tributary.

The project has been overseen by Jim Hutchins, a Jacksonville naturalist who teaches stewardship classes in southwest Oregon schools.

Hymas said he has met with Hutchins to discuss rehabilitating the creek banks by the hotel. Hymas said he would be willing to provide money and volunteer staff time to help with the removal of the blackberries, possibly in his 2011 budget.

Hymas said he originally came up with the idea of a pedestrian bridge, but only if the proposed water park were to be built at Hawthorne Park. So far, city officials have been leaning toward building the $14 million water park in Bear Creek Park.

While a water park in Hawthorne Park and a pedestrian bridge to it would almost certainly boost Hymas' bottom line, he said the project would benefit everyone in downtown. The proposed pedestrian bridge would link The Commons redevelopment project and downtown with the water park and the Tinseltown theaters in the Medford Center, he said.

Mayor Gary Wheeler said he hasn't rejected Hawthorne Park as a site for the water park, but he wants to postpone any decision until a report is finished that looks at many options.

"There are issues with Hawthorne Park such as traffic and parking," Wheeler said.

"It may not be the most desirable location," he said, but he stressed that Hawthorne Park has not been removed from the discussion.

Wheeler said Hymas' comments are food for thought, and he understands the pitfalls of removing the blackberries and the effect that would have on hotel security.

"I understand his position," Wheeler said. "I wouldn't come up with a real strong argument to dissuade him otherwise."

Hymas said he budgeted $5,000 in 2009 to remove the blackberries, but the city didn't come up with any plan to address his safety concerns, so he never proceeded. He said the city will need to find a way to make prevent homeless people from sleeping under the Fourth Street bridge without impeding the flow of the creek at high water.

City Councilman Bob Strosser said it would be up to the city to mitigate some of the concerns the Red Lion Inn has with safety in Hawthorne Park.

"We will be actively engaged in making sure it is a safe environment," Strosser said.

Strosser said he's hoping the city can work with the Red Lion Inn to get the blackberries removed and to improve the creek banks.

"I would like to see something happen to enhance the creek there," he said. "We would love to have Bear Creek become more of a centerpiece in the downtown and beautified."

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