Kenneth Johnson, 23, and Andrew Ludlow, 26, pick up leaves under a bridge along near the Greenway Trail in Talent Saturday. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch

Helping Hands

They came with pruning shears, rakes and shovels.

They came with garbage bags, paint brushes and work gloves.

More than 700 people of all ages hit the Bear Creek Greenway to clean up the length of the trail between Ashland and Central Point as part of a community service project Saturday organized by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The church organizes Mormon Helping Hands projects to get members involved in giving to their communities, said Dick Robertson, a spokesman for the Medford stake.

"I felt inspired. I wanted to contribute," said Sam Garner, 29, who admits to sometimes skipping out when he hears the call to service.

On Saturday, though, he and a handful of friends set off down the greenway between Talent and Ashland to cut back encroaching blackberry brambles and trim low-hanging branches.

Alongside Garner, 26-year-old Medford resident John Morrill said he had worked on many church projects while on a two-year mission in Guatemala, but he was glad to have an opportunity to serve his own community, too.

"I use this path," he said.

Back at Lynn Newbry Park in Talent, a multi-generational painting crew smoothed pale green paint on a picnic shelter and table.

"We've got everybody who can get on a ladder up there," said Carolyn Beron, of Medford.

"The rest of us are taking care of down here," she said, steadying a paint tray for 3-year-old Hayden Allen who carefully stroked paint onto a bench and the base of a support post.

His 17-month-old sister, Lamden, toddled back and forth, patting the surfaces to be painted — and at least one that had just been painted, leaving her with a green-tinged palm and a smudge of paint on her cheek.

While Alison Allen and her three youngest children painted at the park, her three elder children had headed down the trail with dad for some pruning and litter collection.

Robertson estimated that about 150 people were working on the trail between Ashland and Talent. Other groups set out from U.S. Cellular Community Park, Bear Creek Park and other points along the roughly 17-mile trail.

Church officials contacted Jenna Stanke, a special projects coordinator at the Jackson County roads and park department who oversees the greenway, earlier this year looking for a project for about 400 volunteers. Then, they returned and said they could bring up to 800 volunteers, she said.

"I think this is probably the biggest one-time project on the greenway," Stanke said.

She drew up a list of chores the group could tackle — picking up litter, trimming vegetation, spreading gravel alongside the path, marking breaks in the pavement.

"It was based on what the greenway needs," Stanke said, explaining that the mass of manpower could remove the tangle of spring growth that sprouted up late this year without machinery now restricted by fire danger.

Kenneth Johnson, 23, and Andrew Ludlow, 26, cut brush, raked leaves and collected litter.

"I saw the leaves under here and thought 'That looks ugly,' so I decided to rake them up," Ludlow said, as he and Johnson filled a yellow trash bag with dry leaves that had collected under the West Valley View bridge over Bear Creek.

"It looks a lot better," said Linda Telford of Medford, summing up the trail as she returned from a brush-cutting expedition in Talent.

She said numerous cyclists had shouted out thanks and encouragement as they pedaled past crews of volunteers.

"They got a lot of work done," Stanke said, after the crews finished lunch at Bear Creek Park in Medford. "The trail looks great. I'm grateful for their help. It's a tribute to their organization."

Around this time of year across the West, Mormon Helping Hands and similar community projects are a key part of Pioneer Day celebrations, commemorating the arrival of Brigham Young and the first pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847, Robertson said.

Church officials in Oregon wanted to make this year's efforts especially prominent to honor the state's sesquicentennial, he said.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail

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