The final 1.4-mile ribbon of asphalt now in the works outside of Central Point will secure the 30-year dream of linking the Bear Creek basin's five cities together along a path built for bicycle wheels and sneaker heels.

The final 1.4-mile ribbon of asphalt now in the works outside of Central Point will secure the 30-year dream of linking the Bear Creek basin's five cities together along a path built for bicycle wheels and sneaker heels.

Jackson County this week secured a $1.525 million grant to pave the final piece of the Bear Creek Greenway, creating the last link in the 20 miles of trail targeted for creation by Greenway organizers in the early 1980s.

"For the past 30 years, this has been the focus," said John Vial, the county's roads and parks director. "This last piece will finish it."

The last stretch, dubbed the "Expo Section," will pave a 10-foot-wide path between Pine Street and Upland Road. Pedestrian passage through the area now follows a string of paths and the shoulders of Penninger Road.

Once done, the path will follow Bear Creek from Blackwell Road near Interstate 5's Exit 35 down through Central Point, Medford, Phoenix and Talent before ending at the Ashland Dog Park.

"Certainly from the five communities' standpoint, this is a huge milestone," said Lee Mills, board president of the Bear Creek Greenway Foundation. "Now you have the continuous path that not only connects the cities, but it also gets you to the fairgrounds by foot or bicycle.

"It's a big deal," Mills said.

The project was one of 14 selected by the Oregon Transportation Commission from a pool of 100 projects vying for money provided through the Federal Transportation Enhancement Program, Vial said.

The Greenway foundation is on the hook for the remaining money, which is about $175,000, to complete the $1.7 million segment.

Mills said the foundation, through donations, has most of that money already on hand but it will have to raise about $20,000 through future donations to finish its commitment.

"We'll come up with that, especially in two years," Mills said. "We've never missed a goal yet."

The new stretch will start just north of Pine Street across from the Pilot truck stop and follow a current trail past the lower Expo pond before following Penninger Road the remainder of the way, Vial said. The path will be all on public land, he said.

After more planning, design and securing permits, construction is targeted for the summer of 2013, he said.

Not everyone along the Greenway Friday was glad to hear of the plans.

George Duran of Central Point regularly walks his dog Brick on the Greenway, including a few hundred yards on the unpaved section.

Duran said the dirt path is fine and is a better ecological fit than asphalt for Bear Creek's riparian zone.

"I prefer the dirt," Duran said. "And it's cheaper."

It also doesn't settle the debate over whether done means done for the Greenway.

Original visions from the early 1970s had a continuous path from Emigrant Lake down to Bear Creek's confluence with the Rogue River, where it could hook up to a Rogue River Greenway that would amble as far downstream as Grants Pass.

Nitpickers might also take umbrage with the use of the word "continuous" on the Greenway.

With the recent building of the bridge spanning Barnett Road, the Greenway has only one hiccup to true continuity — there's no pedestrian bridge over or around Suncrest Road in Talent.

"You'll still have to cross Suncrest Road," Mills said. "But that's nothing like Barnett."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.