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People who trash the Greenway face $250 ticket

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Photo courtesy of Jackson County An aerial photo reveals garbage spreading out from a homeless camp along the Bear Creek Greenway.
Repeat violators could be banned from area

People who repeatedly trash the Bear Creek Greenway could get a $250 ticket, and repeat violators could be banned from the recreational area and arrested if they return.

Jackson County has adopted the approach in an effort to reduce the piles of garbage and scattered trash that litter the walking, jogging and biking path. The enforcement applies to portions of the Greenway under county jurisdiction.

The garbage is often associated with homeless camps, but anyone could get a ticket that comes with a maximum fine of $250.

“You’ll see anything from household garbage to a ton of stuff that is not accumulated by a person who is just living,” said Jackson County Parks and Roads Director Steve Lambert. “We’ve cleaned up pieces and parts from 50 to 100 bicycles and a dozen cans of paint open and spilling into the creek. We’ve cleaned up sites littered with 100 to 200 needles.”

Photo courtesy of Jackson County A mound of garbage accumulates along the Bear Creek Greenway.

During the 2021 fire season, Jackson County banned all off-trail use along its sections of the Greenway in an effort to reduce fire danger. The September 2020 Almeda fire that started in Ashland tore through the Greenway, Talent and Phoenix before firefighters stopped the conflagration on the southern outskirts of Medford.

In 2021, the city of Medford adopted a ban on Greenway camping during fire season along its sections of the path.

The off-trail use and camping bans helped reduce fire danger and also cut into the amount of garbage accumulating in the area.

But once fire season ended, homeless camps and garbage started spreading across the Greenway again, Lambert said.

Jackson County staff will ask the Jackson County commissioners to approve another ban on off-trail Greenway use during the 2022 fire season for county land, Lambert said.

But a year-round ban on off-trail use or camping could result in lawsuits.

In 2018, a federal circuit court in the West ruled cities can’t ban people from camping in public places unless adequate shelter is available. Local jurisdictions have to be careful to target problems such as fire, health and environmental hazards without using blanket bans on homeless camping.

“We’re not targeting the camping,” Lambert said. “We’re trying to target the public health issues and environmental degradation of the area and Bear Creek. We can’t keep turning a blind eye to this.”

Photo courtesy of Jackson County Garbage spreads toward the creek on the Bear Creek Greenway.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office will enforce the county’s rules on garbage accumulation along the Greenway, Lambert said.

Deputies will start with an educational approach, letting people know they can’t amass trash. People who keep accumulating garbage could get a ticket, Lambert said.

He noted some people will likely ignore the fine.

If they keep accumulating garbage after two tickets, they could be banned from the Greenway for one year and arrested for criminal trespassing if they return, Lambert said.

“We’re trying to catch this behavior as it develops versus trying to clean up after,” he said.

Lambert said yellow trash bags have often been distributed to homeless people living along the Greenway. People fill the bags, then set them along the paved trail for pickup by crews.

“That works with about 50% of the people on the Greenway,” Lambert said.

Every spring and fall, volunteers and agencies join forces for massive Greenway cleanup events that yield giant dumpster loads of trash.

Lambert said the county spends tens of thousands of dollars cleaning up garbage.

“We’re continuing to spend a lot of money picking this up. This is a partnership. We can’t do this alone. We need a little bit of accountability from the folks along the Greenway,” he said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.