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Urban trail gets pushback

Work by heavy machinery to clear trees and bushes for a 3,500-foot segment of the Larson Creek Greenway, a multiuse path that will connect the Bear Creek Greenway to North Phoenix Road, took several residents of the Barnett Townhomes by surprise this week.

Tenants of the complex off Barnett and Ellendale say they looked out their back windows to see piles of trees, mounds of soil and plastic temporary fencing.

For some, it was the first they’d learned of the project, which they quickly found out would involve a 10-foot-wide path and chain-link fence where backyard green space once had been.

Residents quickly launched an online petition urging the city to stop construction, voicing concerns about loss of backyard space and natural habitat and increased transient and drug activity.

City officials said the project, adopted in 2003 after a lengthy public process, is part of the city Transportation System Plan and is needed as a safe, off-street alternative for bicyclists and pedestrians to Barnett Road, which sees high volumes of traffic and doesn’t have bike lanes.

Medford Public Works Director Cory Crebbin said the path was crucial, as adding bike lanes along Barnett is not an option because of the utility relocations and lack of available roadway for widening.

He added, “This Larson Creek Greenway is intended to parallel Barnett as a safe alternative for bicycle and pedestrian traffic.”

Townhome residents Brittany Cain and her mother, Doreen McSorley, moved into the complex in 2017, after notices had been delivered about the project.

“I live in a handicap unit, so I have two bedrooms that are downstairs. The fence comes right up to my bedroom window and across my patio — how’s that for privacy being gone?” said McSorley, shaking her head as workers used machinery to clear the land alongside the creek.

“They say don’t worry, they’re putting up a fence, but they’ll probably put up a short little chain link fence which doesn’t give us any privacy and that someone can just hop right over or cut through. It runs right up against the playground where all the kids play. We’re proposing they put up a wooden fence, so we at least have a modicum of privacy.”

Cain said the loss of a grove of willow trees was especially upsetting, as was the increased crime that occurred with an earlier segment of the path.

“They cut down these beautiful trees to make a greenway? Sounds pretty crazy to me. You think of the greenway being about conservation, and they’re seriously planting trees over on the path down there and literally cutting the trees down over here,” said Cain.

Resident Katie Melson, who has lived in the townhomes longer than McSorley and Cain, recalled project notice given in 2017 but sparse communication since then.

Melson said an earlier segment of the path, from the Bear Creek Greenway to Ellendale, had brought increased transient activity, crime and drug paraphernalia to the complex.

“We have watched people walk up and take off with bikes while we were watching them. It’s only going to get worse. Most people don’t feel safe using the greenway, and now it’s going to connect to this path behind families’ backyards,” Melson said.

“To do this will make families not even feel safe letting their kids out somewhere to play. What kind of way is that to live? They’re just giving the homeless more places to camp. Wouldn’t money be better spent on facilities where they can get their meds and get treated?”

Crebbin, who said city officials held public meetings about the trail and notified residents in advance, said fencing would be installed, and that city officials anticipate increased bike and pedestrian use will discourage illegal activities.

Crebbin said the city began acquiring property in the 1990s to create the pathway. The current Ellendale-to-Black Oak portion is being constructed for $1.7 million and is under contract with JRT Construction LLC for completion by Oct. 19.

“The goal of the transportation system is to make it easier for people to travel by various modes — and that’s all people,” Crebbin said.

“We have been hearing from concerned people from the get-go, but a lot of the path is going to be fenced. Though, as soon as you say you’re building a fence, people say, ‘Well, people can cut through it with bolt cutters,’ but that’s true for every fence.”

Cain said she sympathized with the need for safe pedestrian and bike access but worried about impacts from the path for her family and neighbors.

“My husband has chased people off the trash cans. We had a guy in here swinging a shower rod at people. I know people in fancier neighborhoods think their cute little bike path is for biking and walking and enjoying, but that’s not reality,” she said.

McSorley, who said residents plan to attend an April 18 City Council meeting to voice concerns, agreed.

“The city can’t even manage the part of the greenway that already exists, and they think they need to expand it? There’s already stuff going on in that little stretch across the street — we’ve seen some things,” she said.

“I used to ride my bike on the greenway in the ‘80s to get from place to place, but now I wouldn’t even think about doing that.”

To view a project map, see www.ci.medford.or.us/Files/Larson%20Crk%20Trail%20Segment%20II%20Map.pdf

For project information, see www.ci.medford.or.us/page.asp?navid=3929

Doreen McSorley walks behind her condo where the Larson Creek Greenway is being built. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
The Larson Creek Greenway, an extension of the Bear Creek Greenway, will provide an alternative route to Barnett Road for bicyclists and pedestrians. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune