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Mountain bike trails proposed in Ashland watershed

A concept for new trails in the Ashland watershed intended to address issues identified by the mountain biking community will continue to incorporate layers of consideration from non-recreation perspectives, including wildlife, fire management and public health, according to a subcommittee of stakeholders.

On Monday, the Trails Master Plan Review Subcommittee reviewed proposals from the Rogue Valley Mountain Bike Association to expand and improve the mountain bike-friendly trail system, moving toward development of a final recommendation to the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission.

According to minutes from the committee’s meeting Oct. 20, the goal of the subcommittee is to look at proposals from RVMBA and make recommendations, without altering the city’s Trails Master Plan. Exploring the feasibility of and making a decision on RVMBA proposals is among APRC’s top five goals for the biennium.

Ashland City Councilor Stephen Jensen joined the subcommittee after the subcommittee and City Council resolved confusion about overlapping direction being given on the project. The council deferred to the Parks Commission to lead the process, said APRC Director Michael Black.

“We were not aware of the depth and breadth of the parks process, and for that we take some responsibility,” Jensen said of the City Council. “Consequently, we came into full realization of the breadth and depth of the trails process in the APRC, and so we totally backed off on that and really put our support behind this process that we’re involved in here right now.”

RVMBA proposed options to address congestion — nearly all mountain bike traffic exits the watershed in the Lithia Park area via the BTI or Jabberwocky trails — a lack of beginner trails and the city’s goal to improve tourism opportunities in the recreation industry, said RVMBA Treasurer Casey Botts.

“We want to see more traffic spread to the south side of town — that’s the overall goal is to disperse traffic to relieve system pressure,” Botts said. “To make this goal a reality, user experience is going to be a big consideration.”

The majority of riders are not using the existing bike-legal trail, White Rabbit, because a steep, rough section of the trail is not optimized for bikes and the trail is multi-use, Botts said.

“It’s beyond not optimized,” said Ian Cropper with RVMBA, adding that the terrain can be challenging for hikers as well. “Some of these sections are unrideable and even dangerous if you’re going downhill. If you’re coming down that space on a bike, you can be completely locking your brakes and you’ll still either slip or you’ll go into the rut. ... I don’t think anybody can actually make it up that trail; they’d have to be pushing their bike up that section.”

The first downhill trail proposal would transition the White Rabbit Trail to a bike-optimized, bike-only trail from Looking Glass Trail to the bottom of Cheshire Cat near the Park Street exit, remove the wooden steps in that section and soften the gradient. A second option would establish a new trail along the ridge north of White Rabbit.

The first climb trail option would add onto the Siskiyou Mountain Loop climb trail. Option B would construct a new trail north of White Rabbit, Botts said, acknowledging that the committee might sacrifice some user experience points for the sake of minimizing construction with a multidirectional trail in this section.

To the west, RVMBA’s plan focuses on repairing an “undesirable” section of trail to improve user appeal. The trails plan also attempts to enhance neighborhood connectivity, user safety and trail sustainability, Botts said.

As the project progresses, proponents will navigate land areas designated for fire treatment, wildlife habitat, private property and buffer zones, and tricky geological conditions at certain sites.

Ashland Fire & Rescue Forestry Division Chief Chris Chambers said equally as important as the recreation perspective is the “wildlife layer,” which takes precedence for many stakeholders, specifically regarding parcels under conservation easements.

Other “layers” the subcommittee acknowledged must be folded into discussion include land conservation priorities, fire management, wastewater treatment plans, landslide planning, user safety and vegetation types — some plants are more conducive to building trails than others in this system and certain vegetation is high-value for Pacific fisher habitat, Chambers said.

The Pacific fisher could potentially be listed as an endangered species, and the animals use Siskiyou Mountain Park frequently based on collaring and tracking studies, he said.

The subcommittee should also consider the need for emergency medical services to facilitate extraction when people are injured in the watershed, hazard minimization and manageable user speeds, Chambers said.

The use of proactive fire in strategic parts of the watershed is expected to increase as a core part of community protection and wildfire mitigation efforts, he added.

For the Imperatrice property — more than 800 acres of city-owned land north of Interstate 5 — RVMBA proposed ideas for a dual slalom track with the capacity to host events and a loop trail with connection to the Grizzly Peak trail system.

“With an easement or two, a new trail could potentially travel all the way from the valley floor to the Grizzly Peak trail system managed by BLM,” according to the RVMBA Sustainable Mountain Bike Trails proposal. “Lower down in the grasslands and out of the protected areas, opportunities may exist for a seasonal dual slalom course that could play host to regional events once a year, then be allowed to return to a natural setting when not in use.”

The Trails Master Plan Review Subcommittee will next convene Dec. 14 to discuss the project theme, breakout group work and next steps toward future recommendations.

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