The Bear Creek Greenway path winds through construction work at the south Medford interchange. The 18-mile path is finally open 35 years after construction began. - Bob Pennell

An Unbroken Path

It's taken 35 years, but travelers from all walks of life can now skate, pedal or walk from Ashland to Central Point along the Bear Creek Greenway.

"It hasn't formally been opened, but it's open," said J Domis, administrative program manager with Jackson County Roads and Parks.

Construction of the 18-mile pathway that links Ashland, Talent, Phoenix, Medford and Central Point began in 1973, and the trail has been built in sections as funding became available.

The idea of a pedestrian path along Bear Creek is even older, dating back to the early 1960s, before Interstate 5 was completed, said Neil Ledward, former director of Jackson County's parks department.

The idea then was to create a chain of parks from Ashland to Rogue River connected by a trail, Ledward said.

"That kind of grew into the Greenway movement," he said.

Back in 1973, Al Densmore, then a young state legislator, shepherded the Bear Creek Greenway bill through Salem. The bill authorized a partnership with the Oregon Department of Transportation and designated Jackson County as the lead agency to create the trail.

"I think the most important part of it was creating the public-private partnership," said Densmore, now a Medford city councilman.

In the early years, Medford built a bike trail, and the county built a bike trail in Talent in what is now Lynn Newbry Park, Ledward recalled.

There were many obstacles along the long road to completing the Greenway and building the path, recalled Jerry MacLeod, chairman of the Medford Parks and Recreation Commission. Land acquisition was a major initial hurdle. As the path became established, managers had to cope with flood damage, tree roots in the asphalt and safety concerns.

Police and volunteers now patrol sections of the path to help keep visitors safe.

Jackson County and the five cities along the path have created an agreement that outlines how much each jurisdiction will spend to maintain the path and a Joint Powers Commission to develop a management plan for the Greenway.

Lee Mills, president of the Bear Creek Greenway Foundation, said the Greenway is a valuable asset to the community. He acknowledged that path users will have to negotiate the busy south Medford interchange construction site for several months yet.

"There's going to be some interference," he said. "At least on the weekends they're not doing much (construction work)."

Jenna Stanke will become special project manager in the Jackson County Roads and Parks Department on June 9. She has been working with the Rogue Valley Council of Governments helping to coordinate the Rogue River Greenway, which would extend the Bear Creek Greenway downstream along the Rogue River, fulfilling the original vision for the project.

Karen Smith, who retired recently after overseeing the county's Greenway program for decades, said Rogue Valley residents will be glad that a trail alongside the creek has been preserved as the region continues to grow.

"The more years go by, the more valuable the trail is going to be," she said.

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