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Greenway crews prepare erosion areas for rain

Agencies that have been working to restore and stabilize sections of the Bear Creek Greenway that burned in the Almeda fire will complete work on more than 30 “high priority” sites along the path this week, just in time for rain.

The high-priority sites are more environmentally sensitive and erosion-prone, said Steve Lambert, Jackson County parks manager and Emergency Operations Center operational group leader for the county.

“You have erodible, sandy soils on real steep banks,” Lambert said. “Some steep, big hills coming down right to the creek’s edge, like behind (Highway) 99 there in Talent. More kind of wetland areas or groundwater seeps or creeks, those kind of sensitive areas.”

Stabilization work at the high-priority sites has included use of wattles, or straw tubes that are staked down to prevent debris from entering Bear Creek. Nearly two miles of wattles have been installed, along with thick layers of straw mulch and seeding spread by helicopter and other methods. Officials also utilized jute matting, rolls of netting that are spread out and staked down to hold the dirt in place, and check dams, used to slow the water as it flows toward the creek.

The Greenway restoration work has used a three-pronged approach, Lambert said, with crews dividing their to-do list into high-, medium- and low-priority sites.

“We realized early on if we tried to tackle this big of a project all in one big bite, it wasn’t going to be successful,” Lambert said.

For the past two weekends, officials and volunteers have focused efforts on the Phoenix area, from about Fern Valley Road to Anderson Creek Road. The section between Ashland and Talent is next. Officials from multiple federal and state agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Rogue Valley Sewer Services, Freshwater Trust, Rogue Valley Council of Governments and Rogue River Watershed Council have taken on the task. Volunteers have logged more than 600 hours of work, Lambert said. And the work isn’t over yet.

“We can do everything we’ve done and try our best, but at the end of the day, we’re at the mercy of Mother Nature,” Lambert said. “If we get some big rain events, like real high rainfall events, the measures that we put in are going to get tested, and there will be some failure of some of the methods that we’ve used. We’ll be working throughout the winter with our partners just to kind of be checking on stuff that we’ve done and replacing it as needed.”

Rain is expected through the weekend, with snow levels expected to drop to 4,500 feet by Friday morning. A second front is expected to arrive late Saturday, dropping snow levels to about 3,500 feet. By early Saturday, about a half inch of moisture is expected for Medford and Grants Pass, with up to three-0quarters of an inch forecast for Ashland. From 4 p.m. Saturday to 4 p.m. Sunday, up to four inches of snow is expected to fall on Lake of the Woods and Mount Ashland, with up to two inches possible on the Siskiyou Summit, meteorologist Charles Smith said. Diamond Lake and Crater Lake could see up to two inches during the same period.

“These two systems don’t drop a lot of snow,” Smith said. “And also, the road temperatures are a little warm, so we really don’t expect widespread travel impacts.”

On Thursday, Jackson and Josephine counties remained in “severe” to “extreme” drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor website.

Reach Mail Tribune web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com.

The Bear Creek Greenway was burned during the Almeda Fire. (Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch)