Jacksonville invites public for a walk in Forest Park

JACKSONVILLE — Two new hiking trails will be among the attractions visitors can enjoy Saturday during Forest Park Day, an event designed to showcase the city's newest park.

"It's aimed at the community to help them become aware that they have this facility," said Dick Ames, a city councilman involved in efforts to upgrade the area. "It's a great opportunity to expand the trails through Jacksonville's woodland areas."

The park covers 880 acres, situated on 1,800 acres that was the city's former watershed and reservoir site. The reservoir hasn't been used since the early 1950s when Jacksonville connected to the Medford water system.

In 2004, the City Council voted to retain the property and a year later named it Forest Park.

The new trails, reduction of erosion into Jackson Creek, and posting of areas that are off-limits to off-road vehicles have been completed in the last year.

Park Day events will include hikes, meetings with park rangers, free hot dogs, rides on a wagon pulled by a Gator ATV, historic-site visits and a chance to enter a "Name the Trails" contest.

Sections of wooden and cast-iron pipe from Jacksonville's earlier water system are visible while hiking the lower trail, a 1,300-foot-long path that follows Norling Creek and rises 130 feet.

From the upper trail visitors can reach a cave that is the source of Norling Creek. The trail is 2,600 feet long and rises 296 feet to a 2,456-foot-high summit that offers views of the surrounding region, including Northern California. From the summit hikers can backtrack or go down to Norling Road through an area that was treated last year to prevent erosion.

Construction of the trails earlier this summer was paid for by the city, Jacksonville Boosters Club and Jacksonville Woodlands Association.

"There was lots of labor by city crews," said Tony Hess, a park volunteer.

Other park attractions include the reservoir, mostly dry this time of year, and Red Rocks Quarry, where early residents obtained aggregate. The Rail Trail follows an old railroad bed where trains hauled timber and materials for a brick factory in town. The trail is unfinished because a way to cross Jackson Creek has not been constructed to replace a long-gone railroad trestle.

A Motorcycle Riders Association parking area is adjacent to the park along Reservoir Road. Riders can go from there up the roads to access riding areas at higher elevations. Work on the park has resulted in a decrease of off-road use within its boundaries.

"They are following the signs we have put up," said Ames. "We haven't found anybody that abuses our signage."

While the trails may be off-limits to motorized vehicles, they are open to mountain bikers and horses, Ames noted.

Park advocates have a list of 21 future projects for the area, including picnic tables, benches, interpretive panels, toilets and a lean-to shelter on the summit.

Forest Park is reached by taking Highway 238 toward Ruch, turning right on Mary Ann Drive and taking an immediate left on unpaved Reservoir Road.

Several parking areas are adjacent to the road beginning about a mile from the turnoff.

Forest Park Day events will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboom8929@charter.net.

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