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Off-trail areas of Greenway closed due to burned trees

Jackson County is closing off-trail areas along the Bear Creek Greenway because of the hazards posed by burned trees.

People will still be able to use the popular walking, jogging and biking path as long as they don’t venture off the trail into burned areas.

The closure applies to county-owned land along the Greenway, which stretches from Ashland to Central Point.

About nine miles of the Greenway was charred by the Almeda fire that burned from Ashland to Phoenix, destroying large swaths of Talent and Phoenix in September. About two miles were burned by a smaller Central Point fire that also broke out in September.

Much of the Greenway was closed in the immediate aftermath of the fires.

Jackson County hired arborists to cut down hazard trees that threatened to fall on the path itself, allowing for the reopening of the Greenway.

“We felled the trees that could reach the path and were immediately adjacent to the path, but the Greenway is a large area of land,” said Jackson County Roads and Parks Director John Vial.

Cutting just the trees close to the path and removing the debris will cost roughly $250,000, said Steve Lambert, program director for the Jackson County Roads and Parks Department.

The cost would be many, many times more to cut and remove hazardous trees from throughout the burned Greenway area, and those costs would not be eligible for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Lambert said.

The trees can fall on people and drop limbs. The fires burned into the stumps and roots of many trees, leaving dangerous holes in the ground, Lambert said.

Vial said parks workers will continue to monitor the hazardous trees along the Greenway, but nature will be allowed to take its course in areas away from the path.

The damaged trees will provide valuable habitat for wild animals and birds. When they fall and rot someday, the trees will help replenish the soil, Lambert said.

Although the trees could pose some danger in a future fire along the Greenway, keeping underbrush clear in the area is more important to reduce fire danger, Lambert said.

Vial said the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office won’t be out patrolling the Greenway and handing out tickets.

“The intent is to warn people and let them know they aren’t allowed to go off the trail — and most people will comply and that’s going to take care of a huge portion of the risk that the county’s currently facing,” Vial said.

Enforcement action could be taken against people who repeatedly flout the closure, he said.

The county will spread the word about the closure to the public and post signs, Vial said.

With the hazards are not going away anytime soon, there is no projected end date for the ban on off-trail use, he said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneA jogger runs Monday on the Bear Creek Greenway through Phoenix.