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Trail glazers

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Prescott Park’s Madrone Trail looks passable enough after the previous day’s rain, with no standing water and a few hoof prints from a black-tailed deer.

But Haley Cox doesn’t get 10 paces up the trail before her feet look like she’s wearing gray clown shoes.

Roxy Ann Peak’s infamous clay soil kegs up on her soles, showing why the park’s trails overlooking the Rogue Valley are seasonal at best.

“It’s deceiving from the look of it,” says Cox, a planner for the Medford Parks and Recreation Department. “You wouldn’t know from the look of it that your shoes will be covered with 5 pounds of mud.”

But this dubious part of the park’s topography could severely diminish or disappear and the “closed when muddy” signs could go with it.

The city is in the midst of an experiment to see whether these seasonal trails can welcome hikers, runners and bikers year-round by resurfacing them with decomposed granite that, over time, could glaze and harden the trails so water runs off instead of soaking in.

With help from the park’s prolific biker gang — usually sporting their Rogue Valley Mountain Bike Association riding jerseys — park officials recently resurfaced the 1-mile, recently built Greenhorn Trail with decomposed granite in hopes it will form into a better trail and not just wash down the slopes in future rains.

If it sticks, plans are to systematically resurface the park’s remaining 13 miles of trails to give Roxy Ann Peak mountain bikers and hikers access to year-round panoramic views.

“We’re not sure if this will be successful in staying in all weather conditions,” Cox says. “We’re really hoping it will settle into the clay and become much more cemented in so it doesn’t stick to your shoes and tires and has a little bit of give for comfort.”

A year-round surface was a high-priority for the association when it teamed with the city to find, flag and ultimately help build more than 6 miles of new park trails in 2017 — likely the biggest recreational infusion in eight decades into the park at Medford’s eastern edge.

“It’s an awesome asset that we have here right in our backyard, and the terrain is beautiful,” says Michael Bronze, the association’s founder and a regular park rider. “But it’s unrideable in winter. It’s super-sticky when wet. The mud sticks to everything. This way, everybody can use them and enjoy them all winter long.”

The Greenhorn Trail is a good place to start because it’s less demanding than the Black Diamond downhill trail, which also was built two years ago and quickly became a favorite of mountain bikers here.

The Greenhorn Trail is one of precious few year-round mountain-biking trails casual enough for riders unnerved by steeper, faster routes.

“It also opens it up for some of the less-skilled riders who don’t want to go on a bumpy, sticky trail,” rider Bill Matson says.

The resurfacing is a new chapter in the long story of Prescott Park, which has more downs than ups since the city, with the help of the Lion’s Club, fashioned the 1,741-acre park in two land acquisitions in 1930 and ‘31, making it second only to Portland’s Forest Park in Oregon for municipal park acreage.

Its main feature is Roxy Ann Peak, whose 3,571-foot elevation stands 2,200 feet above the Rogue Valley floor.

The park is named for George J. Prescott, a Medford police constable, Lion’s Club member and early park champion who was shot and killed March 16, 1933.

Armed with a warrant, Prescott went to a North Peach Street home that day to arrest Llewellyn Banks for theft of ballots from the Jackson County Courthouse. Banks’ wife answered the door then tried to slam it shut when Prescott stuck his foot between the door and the jamb.

That’s when Banks fired a hunting rifle through the door, striking Prescott in the chest.

The city named the park after Prescott in 1937, about the time the Civilian Conservation Corps completed construction of the inaugural trails, a picnic ground and a few buildings. But little else was done in the ensuing decades, and by the time the city wrote the park’s first master plan in 1984, it was suffering from neglect.

The hillsides known for their old-growth poison oak stands slowly gained more attention, but the big push came in 2017 when the city, in conjunction with the mountain bike association, built 6.4 miles of new trail through the same clingy clay as the old ones.

The Greenhorn Trail resurfacing not only serves as an appetizer for the full meal parks and volunteers hope eventually to cook up for the park, it also demonstrates the uphill climb as they resurface the remaining trails and about 20 miles of future trails outlined in the park’s latest master plan.

Cox says the 300 tons of decomposed granite and 7.5 tons of gravel cost $4,780, and contractors were paid $13,275 for grading, spreading, compacting and completing the trail with the help of more than 50 hours of volunteer labor — much of it from the RVMBA.

The work also included reinforcing the trail surface with armoring rock at five areas where the Greenhorn Trail already was washing out due to rogue trails forged by hikers climbing through it, Cox says.

Bronze says the trail already is better, faster and safer for mountain bikers.

It could take a full year for the new surface to harden, but already it’s adding to a rejuvenation of riding interest in Prescott Park.

“I’m on this trail all the time, and sometimes now I’m seeing 40 to 50 riders,” association member Troy Higgins says. “You used to never see that.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Mountain bikers hit p a new trail Prescott Park in Medford on Monday.
Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Michael Bronze, Rogue Valley Mt. Bike Association founder, hits up a new trail at Prescott Park in Medford on Monday.