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Suspension trail bridge will make Forest Park in Jacksonville safer

A suspended trail bridge under construction over the former site of Jacksonville’s dam spillway will make for a safer experience in the town’s Forest Park. The span will cover 46 feet between tower abutments.

“A lot of people cut through the big rocks that were up there that lined the creek. It was a danger to have them climbing on the rocks,” said Max Woody, Jacksonville Public Works director. “This will add to the safety of the park.”

The spillway was removed in 2016. The rip-rap rocks placed there are three to four feet long, oblong in shape and weight about 200 pounds. They are rough and hard to climb over, said Woody.

Most of the project work has been performed by volunteers, and two-thirds of the budget has come from a grant.

Raymond Family Foundation of Portland awarded $10,000 for the project. Park Ranger Clayton Gillette encountered Robert Raymond on a park trail one day. Raymond told him he enjoyed the park and asked how he could help, said Gillette.

Volunteers Gillette, Tony Hess, Gary Sprague and Marcus Mayfield performed most of the work to put in concrete forms and rebar, with Public Works checking on process, and the bridge engineer inspected the installation.

“They have been doing a great job. It’s been going really well working with them,” said Woody. He estimates two city workers have put in about 20 hours on the job, most of that for digging holes, pouring concrete and putting up the towers.

Project budget is $15,000, and costs are under that figure, said Woody. The grant paid for materials, and the city paid $5,000 for engineering after KAS Engineering, Inc. of Medford gave the municipality a discount. Engineering was done as part of due diligence to ensure soundness of the structure.

Excavation of holes for the bridge towers abutments and the dead men to anchor the bridge cables began in October. One excavation hit bedrock but it was shale that could be broken up, said Gillette.

Part of the effort handled by volunteers was ordering rigging, lumber and a fabricated steel anchors to hold cable. Medford Fabrication created the anchors, which are about three feet high and 12-by-12 inches.

Concrete around the two deadman anchors weighs about 16 tons per hole. About 20 yards of concrete was poured for the two anchor points and two tower support abutments Nov. 20. The towers were put in place Nov. 24.

“The amount of concrete in the deadmen was a surprise to us, but it makes sense when you read through the engineers’ figures,” said Gillette.

Towers were constructed out of 6-by-8-inch and 6-by-6-inch timbers, weigh about 500 pounds and stand about 11 feet tall. The towers are bolted to brackets mounted in the concrete at the abutments.

Stringing of cable and installation of the 4-foot-wide deck will be accomplished over the next couple months. Work should be finished early in the new year, Gillette said.

A catastrophic flood that might have led to collapse of the dam prompted removal of the spillway to provide a deeper outlet for floodwaters. The work created a 10-foot-wide channel that is 12 feet below the dam top and exceeds 500-year-flood flow estimates. Constructed in 1910 to provide water for the town, dam use was discontinued in the 1950s.

Visitor traffic at Forest Park has been heavier this the year likely prompted by people seeking outdoor activity during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Gillette. The trend has continued even with wetter and colder temperatures, Gillette said.

“Being a low-elevation park, people can use it year round,” said Gillette. “This time of year we get a lot more runners, especially ultra-runners. They can train throughout the winter.”

A lot of visitors are coming from outside the immediate area, including hikers and bikers from Ashland and Grants Pass, said Gillette.

The bridge is the eighth in the park and the most elaborate. The park now has about 40 miles of trails spread out over 1,080 acres. Forest Park is two miles west of Jacksonville off Highway 238.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Clayton Gillette and Eric Villarreal guide a tower in place of a new suspension bridge being place at Forest Park in Jacksonville Friday.{ }Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune