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Pears will return to Old 401

Bear Creek Corp. will plant this former pear and apple orchard with Comice pears, after letting the land lie fallow for about a year. The company purchased the 200-acre orchard south of Vilas Road and east of Foothill Road.

Bear Creek will wait a year

Some 200 acres of trees on a 517-acre orchard just northeast of Medford have been torn out -- but that doesn't mean another stand has fallen to the developer's blade.

Instead, Bear Creek Corp. plans to replant the apple and pear orchard with Royal Riviera pears, which are in high demand.

Bill Ihle, vice president of corporate relations for Bear Creek, said the company was looking to the future when it purchased the Old 401 orchard from Crystal Springs Packing Co. last year.

The orchard is south of Vilas Road and east of Foothill Road.

The demand for our Royal Riviera has increased, Ihle said. This should meet our supply requirements into the next century.

The Royal Riviera, a Bear Creek trademark for the Comice pear, is the corporation's signature item. Some 10 million pounds are used annually in the corporation's gift packs. The trademark dates back to Harry and David Holmes, who founded the gift pack industry on the pear you eat with a spoon.

The original Old 401 orchard was planted by Doc Pickel about 1900. Pickel reportedly chose to invest in the orchard -- rather than go back East for a special medical course -- during a period of intense speculation in orchards.

The trees that were removed were planted by Crystal Springs Packing and are apples and varieties of pears other than Comice. The land must lie fallow for about a year before being replanted, Ihle said.

Nearly a year ago, the plot of land was listed among four Jackson County sites under consideration for a 400-bed work camp by state prison-siting officials. About 130 acres are considered to be prime orchard land.

After a surprise announcement by Bear Creek that it intended to buy the land, and testimony from the Jackson County Citizens League arguing against the conversion of farm land, the siting committee settled on Stimpson Gulch, part of a 300-acre cattle ranch just east of Foothill Road and north of Vilas Road.

Pears will return to Old 401