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Greenway restoration efforts are heartening

The Almeda fire was devastating, a tragic shock for our entire region. While the focus initially had to be on trying to fill the needs of displaced and distraught people, I was also deeply worried about the fate of the Greenway. It is horrible to see our green corridor turned black.

Having taken a leading role in the making of the Bear Creek Greenway for 30 years (1978 – 2008) I know the properties and stories about the creation of the system. The system as we knew it on Sept. 8 involved a very long effort to acquire lands, move through many planning processes, to secure agreement among six local governments, and to raise a lot of money. With the agreement of the cities of Ashland, Talent, Phoenix, Medford and Central Point, Jackson County took the lead.

When creating the Jackson County Parks system, the county’s first parks director, Neil Ledward, revived an earlier idea to built a park system along Bear Creek linking communities. The initial parks plan from the early 1960s called for parks at the mountain lakes, on the Rogue and Applegate Rivers, and along Bear Creek. When a federal Land & Water Conservation Fund grant to help with land acquisition was secured in 1973, the effort to realize the Greenway began. Land acquisition was always negotiated on a willing seller basis.

In 1973 ODOT built the trail through Medford in the Interstate 5 right-of-way. For a number of years after that the focus of the project was land acquisition. Jackson County built the next section of trail in the Talent area in the 1980s. In 1990 the Federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) made grant money available to connect Medford to Central Point. Subsequent trail segments followed thanks to ISTEA grant funds and local match money. ISTEA provided 80% of project costs, locals raised the match. The rest of the trail was built in the following segments:

  • Talent to Ashland
  • Suncrest Road to Talent
  • Blue Heron Park to Suncrest Road
  • South Stage Road to Blue Heron Park
  • Barnett Road to Suncrest Road
  • Expo to the Seven Oaks Interchange

Every one of these segments had unique issues and legal requirements, and each involved a community of many players. Over the years all the cities along the creek, Jackson County, service clubs and businesses, the Bear Creek Greenway Foundation, Oregon State Parks, Fish & Wildlife, Oregon Department of Transportation, the Rogue Valley Council of Governments, private grants, hundreds of individuals and the federal government provided funding, in-kind donations and input.

Since the fire, contributions in support of the Greenway from community volunteers, Jackson County Roads & Parks, ODOT, the cities, several agencies, and even a busload of students from Klamath Falls have been incredibly moving and important. I am immensely grateful for every individual and every organization helping stabilize creek banks, remove hazard trees, champion repairs, and move toward restoration. My sincere thanks to all who are embracing this work!

The Greenway was created by an enormous years-long effort to connect the five cities along Bear Creek with a trail and to protect wildlife habitat in a rapidly growing urban area. As time goes by, though the fire caused major destruction, the restored Greenway will forever fill these roles.

Karen Smith of Ashland was a special projects manager for Jackson County Roads and Parks from 1978 to 2008.