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Safe zones

Ladd Zastoupil just finished a 4-mile run, but instead of getting some gym time in Medford he had to get his fix on Roxy Ann Peak. In the snow.

At least it was easy for him to keep at least 6 feet apart from other runners, hikers and bikers looking for a place to get their steps safely when their normal haunts can’t give them that cardio they crave.

“They closed the club I belong to, and they closed the playgrounds, so where do you go?” says Zastoupil, 76, of Medford. “This is the best I have so far. But I did get my 4 miles in. Food for the soul.”

Massive public closures, stay-home demands and other self-isolation directives have turned cities into ghost towns to curb the spread of COVID-19, which health officials say has yet to peak.

Hikers, runners and bikers are encouraged to go outside in Oregon, but they are reminded to maintain that 6-foot alone cone around themselves.

“The problem with hikes is being around strangers,” says Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson County medical director.”

The more travel, the more opportunity for contact with others, and objects such as fences and other inanimate objects that could transit the virus, Shames says.

“Taking a walk around the block, or riding a bike in your community while keeping 6 feet between you and others is a safe way to get outside without endangering yourself or others,” Shames says.

But the neighborhood can get boring, and chances are you’re not getting much elevation gain to get the cardio going enough to blow some platelets out.

On many popular hiking trails, it can be tough to get off the trail to remain 6 feet away from a passerby — especially if you need to step into poison oak.

So here are some options that include enough space for hikers and bikers to get their steps and pedals in while their gyms remain closed.

Prescott Park

This hike or bike can be as long as you make it.

The potential trail starts at a lower gate, then up a paved road to a second gate 0.8 miles away. The third and final gate is another mile away, with another mile to the summit.

There’s a parking lot near the third gate, or you can park along the road near the lower two gates.

Several trails zigzag up the slopes to the summit of Roxy Ann, including a mountain biking-only trail, but they are narrow in places, which could make it difficult to step off trail to keep your distance from oncoming foot traffic.

Bear Creek Greenway

The Greenway has a seedy reputation due to a growing homeless presence in camps tucked between the pavement and Bear Creek.

But the Greenway stretch from South Medford to Phoenix, Talent and even all the way to Ashland provides a great bike ride for even novice riders — and bikes are a great way to keep 6 feet away from anyone and everyone.

A nice new addition to the Greenway is the Larson Creek Greenway, which starts in the Black Oak Shopping Center and meanders along Larson Creek until it reaches the Bear Creek Greenway.

That route offers a 10-mile loop to Phoenix’s Blue Heron Park and back, with a nice stop at the park for a sheltered picnic.

Ashland Watershed forest roads

The main trail in Lithia Park is likely to be crowded on nice days, making it difficult to keep the 6-foot distance from other people. But just up the road is a great opportunity.

At the top of the park above the swim reservoir is gated Forest Service Road 2060, which is closed to vehicle traffic. That makes the road a favorite for hikers, dog walkers and mountain bikers, and it leads to other more remote trails higher up.

For newcomers, it’s a classic up-and-back trail, so hike as far up as you feet comfortable, then return.

There’s parking at gate, but it could become crowded. If full, perhaps that’s the universe telling you now is not the time to hit the road and consider returning later.

The 42 miles of trails farther up the watershed are a draw for more than 50,000 runners, hikers and mountain bikers. To find a map of all these trails, see www.ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=15054

Elk Creek Recreational Area

This area off Highway 62 near Trail was destined six decades ago to be under 100 feet of water, but environmental laws kept the Elk Creek Dam from being completed, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers four years ago transformed it into a recreation area that fits the COVID-19 bill.

The public has walk-in access off Elk Creek Road to about 3,500 acres, including a 7-mile stretch of former country road that’s excellent for hiking and biking, with little elevation gain. Public restrooms and parking can be found off two trailheads, the main one being the Yellow Rock Trailhead closest to the old dam site.

From there, hikers and cyclists can head downstream toward the old gravel mounds once meant for dam construction. Also visible is a wooden Stone Henge-like rehabilitation project upstream of the old dam, which is off-limits to the public.

Upper Rogue River Trail, Lost Creek Lake

This section of trail, accessed just off Highway 62 at Lewis Road immediately past Peyton Bridge, is a great trail to run or hike for a there-and-back cardio event or just a fun stroll.

The walk goes past old Douglas firs and streams, allowing for nice views of the tranquil upper lake area.

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

Note: The Army Corps of Engineers closed the Elk Creek Recreational Area March 27.

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneA hiker walks through snow flurries at Prescott Park in Medford.