Veterans' center path will be paved by state

WHITE CITY — The Ho Chi Minh Trail is about to get a facelift.

The Oregon Department of Transportation plans to widen and pour asphalt on a nearly mile-long dirt path on the west side of Highway 62 that long has been used by veterans at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinic to walk to White City businesses.

The $138,000 construction project has been awarded to Foley Roads Inc. of Eagle Point, according to ODOT spokesman Gary Leaming. Work is slated to begin Monday.

"We're very happy it is going to be improved and updated — it'll be a great addition for folks here," said Don Peccia, facilities coordinator at the SORCC. "Quite a few veterans use that path, walking or riding their bikes down it."

The path, which has become rutted and eroded by weather and use, was dubbed the Ho Chi Minh Trail by Vietnam War veterans, he noted.

"It has been here for a long time," Peccia added. "It is used a lot."

The name is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the jungle paths that North Vietnam used during that war to infiltrate troops and supplies into South Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh was the leader of North Vietnam.

The funding for improving the 4,500-foot trail is coming from ODOT's grant money earmarked for bicycle-pedestrian projects, he said.

The project became a reality because of the initiative by local ODOT traffic analyst William Fitzgerald, an Oregon Army National Guard citizen soldier who served in Iraq, Leaming said. Fitzgerald had noticed a veteran in a wheelchair using the edge of the highway because the trail was not accessible to wheelchairs, he said.

Formerly known as the domiciliary, the VA facility was originally the Army's Camp White during World War II. Shortly after the war, it became a regional center whose mission has been to help veterans. It now has more than 15,000 outpatients as well as some 500 inpatients. Veterans turning to the facility for help include those from World War II and the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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