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MailTribune.com
  • The emerald necklace

    The Bear Creek Greenway is an 18-mile jewel for outdoors lovers of all stripes
  • Cyclists and joggers know the Bear Creek Greenway as one of Southern Oregon's best places to get some outdoor exercise without traveling too far from home. But you don't have to be a diehard runner or a heart-pounding cyclist to enjoy an outing on the Greenway. There are plenty of things to see and do for those who opt for a slower pace.
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      Greenway website: jacksoncounty.org/bearcreekgreenway
      Mail Tribune Greenway Guide:
      http://bit.ly/1lxJWiL
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      Learn more
      Greenway website: jacksoncounty.org/bearcreekgreenway

      Mail Tribune Greenway Guide:

      http://bit.ly/1lxJWiL
  • Cyclists and joggers know the Bear Creek Greenway as one of Southern Oregon's best places to get some outdoor exercise without traveling too far from home. But you don't have to be a diehard runner or a heart-pounding cyclist to enjoy an outing on the Greenway. There are plenty of things to see and do for those who opt for a slower pace.
    Anybody who can walk can stroll along the path. There are no major hills to climb, because the route hews closely to Bear Creek as it winds along the valley floor. And it's paved, so stability underfoot isn't an issue for most folks. Walking at a leisurely pace allows you to see things that runners and cyclists go right past — like spawning salmon.
    "Last fall we saw about four dozen," says Molly Kreuzman, co-director of the Coyote Trails/Jefferson Nature Center, in Medford's U.S. Cellular Community Park. The Greenway traverses the park about midway along its 18-mile course between Ashland and Central Point.
    Kreuzman says the nature center offers a range of two-hour workshops on Saturdays that teach traditional living skills such as making fire from friction, building survival shelters, primitive cooking and basket making. Many programs are open to kids as young as 8.
    "Parents could ride their bikes with their kids out there and do a class and then ride back home," she says.
    There's also a small natural history museum at the nature center, where birds' nests, animal skins and other objects from the natural world are displayed.
    You won't see salmon every day in Bear Creek, and you probably won't catch a glimpse of the elk, deer and bear that occasionally blunder onto the Greenway, but you can't help but notice the birds that make their homes near the stream. Avid bird watchers often visit the Greenway just to see how many species they might see. Every season there are familiar friends like great blue herons, crows and ravens, flickers and red-wing blackbirds. You never know when you might catch a glimpse of more unusual species such as the white-tailed kite or a sharp-shinned hawk. Carrying a field guide will help you identify the birds you don't already know by sight or sound.
    North of Medford, there are ponds along the Greenway that attract birds, too. Jenna Stanke, Jackson County's Greenway coordinator, says she's seen green herons, kingfishers, egrets, and a variety of hawks and ducks on the ponds south of Central Point. A gazebo near one of the ponds offers shelter from rainy weather or summer's blistering heat.
    Stanke encourages people who don't consider themselves excellent cyclists to give the Greenway a test drive, because the gentle terrain makes for easy pedaling.
    "It's all really flat," she says. "I think people will surprise themselves with how far they can go. Even a novice can ride the whole thing."
    She encourages people to plan a trip that will pass the time in a leisurely way. "You can head out from one community for another, have lunch and then ride back," she says.
    Food is a great way to bribe kids into a Greenway ride with Mom and Dad, she says, noting there are lots of restaurants near the paved path that offer the kinds of food kids like.
    People who like to fish can travel the Greenway to reach the ponds north of the Expo. There's plenty of bank access to try for bass and stocked trout with a youngster just learning to wet a line.
    Farther south, Phoenix's Blue Heron Park makes a good stopping or resting place on a ride between Ashland and Medford. The city's largest park offers a playground for kids, picnic areas, restrooms and a covered shelter to take refuge from a sudden shower or summer's heat.
    "It's a real family-friendly place," says Kevin Caldwell, Phoenix's public works superintendent. And with 20 acres of grass, there's plenty of room for kids to frolic.
    A bit farther north, Bear Creek Park in Medford offers numerous activities, including free summer concerts and movies. The 100-acre park features Little League fields, an off-leash dog area, a BMX track, an outdoor performing amphitheater and a 25,000-square-foot skatepark, along with barbecue areas, four tennis courts and restrooms.
    Some attractions along the Greenway take a little time to find because they're not directly alongside the path. Stanke says there's a big boulder known as "the balanced rock" along the path near the access point at Eagle Mill Road, north of Ashland.
    Cyclists tend to blast right past it, she says. "You have to look pretty closely. If you don't slow down, you'll miss it. You can walk right down to it. It's about 50 feet off the path."
    Stanke encourages people to visit the Greenway website (jacksoncounty.org/bearcreekgreenway) when organizing an outing to learn of any construction closures that might interfere with their plans. The website also has a map with information about places where you can get on the path.
    Next time you're thinking about a bike ride or a hike, think about the Greenway. There's probably a bike-friendly route near your home that will deliver you to one of the access points, and from there, you can go wherever your fancy takes you.
    Bill Kettler is a freelance writer living in Rogue River. Reach him at bdkettler@gmail.com.
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