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Waterline trail reroute approved

Andy Atkinson / file photo Two runners share the path on the Waterline Trail above Lithia in Ashland.

ASHLAND — The Forest Lands Commission approved construction Tuesday of an alternate pedestrian route on lower Waterline Trail above Lithia Park.

The reroute is a result of dangerous encounters between mountain bikers and pedestrians, said Chris Chambers, Ashland Fire & Rescue forestry division chief. The route bypasses a section of the trail where fast-moving cyclists traveling downhill meet pedestrians or equestrians coming uphill.

The area underwent a geologic evaluation due to concerns about steep grade and erosion, Chambers said. Trail construction will begin once the soil is moist enough to hold together.

A trail description on the Hiking Project website warns hikers and runners that most bike traffic comes downhill on the Waterline Trail from the BTI and Jabberwocky trails, and mountain bikers have a difficult time stopping quickly on the steep hill.

With the spring 2017 creation of the popular Jabberwocky Trail, downhill mountain bike traffic on the connecting Waterline Trail has increased, amplifying the need to avoid “adverse bike-pedestrian encounters,” said Torsten Heycke, president of the Ashland Woodlands & Trails Association.

The AWTA proposed a trail reroute in 2018, Heycke said, but the project didn’t progress until the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission found an engineering geologist to assess the area.

Heycke said before a trail can be approved, “you want to see what the area looks like when it’s raining hard and where the runoff is, but also you want to see what things look like when the soil has been baked.”

While considering physical obstacles, like grade requirements and poison oak removal, project partners sought to ensure the new route would solve the problem without generating new ones, he said.

Heycke said he expects the high end of the rerouted trail to present challenges during construction because it must avoid the Jabberwocky Trail exit and cross the waterline for which the trail is named, where the soil is thin.

Finding an engineering geologist proved challenging, Heycke said, as few are locally based, and unpaved, pedestrian trails aren’t always within their purview.

The evaluation concluded, “based on our review of the site, the geologic evaluation and our extensive experience with the weathered granitic soils of the Grayback Plutons in the Ashland area, in our professional opinion, the subject path is suitable for the proposed development.”

No mapped waterways will be altered by the trail, development will not notably alter groundwater or surface water flow, and “best management practices and preventative methods will be adequate to mitigate adverse impacts” of erosion, the report found.

Heycke said AWTA and APRC aim to begin construction in late autumn.

With the Forest Lands Commission’s approval of the proposed trail’s impacts on soil, vegetation and wildlife secured, APRC will vote on trail usage considerations, including a pedestrian-equestrian usage separation on this section of trail.

Reach reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497.