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New 11-acre park opens in Ashland

With little or no fanfare — and as a real recreational plus for shut-ins in the time of coronavirus — the city of Ashland has created and opened a wide, level, 11-acre Riverwalk Park next to Bear Creek, running half a mile between Oak Street and North Mountain Park.

In addition to its value for jogging, hiking, mountain-biking and picnicking, Riverwalk Park helps preserve riparian wildlife and serves as the only connector for nonmotorized transportation over a big swath of land between Oak Street and Mountain Avenue, said city Parks and Recreation Director Michael Black.

“It provides an amazing corridor for transportation, though people tend to think that means only cars, but it’s for alternate modes — skating, roller-blading, bicycling, jogging and any way using your own power. It’s a cut-through that didn’t exist until now, and we’re very excited about it.”

Walking her dog to a creekside chill-out session at the west end of the trail, Robyn Janssen, director of Rogue Riverkeepers, said, “I love it, walking my dog here. ... There are so many trails up in the watershed, so it’s nice they’re focusing on the lower valley and introducing people to Bear Creek.”

Her hiking companion, Faith Walker, said, “It’s beautiful, and I love getting out in nature and wildlife, especially now, with the quarantine, it’s a must.”

The park trail is not part of the Bear Creek Greenway, which runs 18 miles from Central Point and ends at Oak Street in Ashland. However, if Greenway trekkers want to continue eastward, they can go a quarter-mile up Oak to get on Riverwalk off Sleepy Hollow Street. The extension of the Greenway eastward from Oak Street is not firmed up yet, he adds, and could include Riverwalk.

The city bought the land from Paul Mace and Kathleen Kahle in 2017 for $380,000, with the couple saying “they wanted to see it in public hands, an amenity for people indefinitely.”

The park will get a paved bikeway and many smaller trails for people to enjoy the land as “open space,” with access to the creek at various points, said Black. The creek is mostly out of view of the trail, and parks officials don’t intend to cut down trees to make it more view-friendly, Black said.

“We’re trying to be as minimally invasive as possible,” he said. “We don’t want to overbuild it. It’s open space. Parks are developed with playgrounds and restrooms — and open space doesn’t have those amenities.”

In returning it to a more natural state, the city has removed huge amounts of blackberry vines, which are non-native. He said visitors are welcome to do what they want, with the usual ban on such things as camping, sleeping, drinking, etc.

Photo by John DarlingFaith Walker, left, and Robyn Janssen walk in the new 11-acre Riverwalk Park in Ashland.