Phil Dollison is working to add about 9 miles of bike paths to Upper Applegate Road with the help of Symbiotics, a company that is retrofitting Applegate Dam with a hydroelectric plant. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

Wheels set in motion

Phil Dollison takes his life into his hands every time he pedals downhill out of his rural Ruch yard and heads down Upper Applegate Road on his touring bicycle.

The road's two bicycle lanes that begin upstream of Applegate Lake stop at his driveway, forcing him to ride smack-dab among pickups, cars and log trucks on the asphalt thoroughfare between Ruch and the upper Applegate Valley.

"You can't ride on the shoulder, so you have to ride on the road," says Dollison, 73. "It's just not that safe."

So Dollison and some fellow Applegaters are working to double the number of bicycle-lane miles along Upper Applegate Road to turn it into a destination ride for local and touring cyclists, and they've found an unusual ally in their quest.

Symbiotics, a private company recently licensed to retrofit Applegate Dam for hydropower, plans to help Dollison's group by donating some materials and engineering work it is doing for the underground transmission lines it will build along Upper Applegate Road from the dam to a substation in Ruch.

Symbiotics also plans to allow Dollison's group to build 4-foot-wide bike lanes on the powerline easement where feasible, linking current chunks of bicycle lanes already on the road from Ruch up past the dam and around part of the lake to the California line.

"We're going to connect the dots and will make a safe destination ride to this lake out here," says Dollison, a regular cyclist.

Erik Steimle, Symbiotics' director of environmental compliance in Portland, says his company is in the business of low-impact power development that focuses on projects beneficial to the communities where they place them.

That's why Symbiotics agreed to bury the transmission lines at its own expense after hearing area residents complain that aerial lines would be a dangerous eyesore.

"It sounds like that bike path would be a good project," Steimle says. "If what we do facilitates it and can save them some costs, we'll be happy to help them. It's just simple coordination."

Dollison and other Applegaters would never have guessed six months ago that they would consider Symbiotics an ally in improving their already idyllic valley.

When the Utah-based company won a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license to build a 10-megawatt hydroelectric retrofit to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dam, area residents liked the idea of the dam providing green energy but took objection to how it would be delivered.

Its license did not specify buried transmission lines and residents last fall took tried to block the aerial lines through a state licensing review that concluded the company had no requirement to bury the lines over the 15 miles from the dam to the Ruch substation.

But Symbiotics in December abruptly amended its license with a new plan to bury the lines in the Jackson County right-of-way, absorbing the more than $1 million cost and hoping to recoup it with lower maintenance costs over the life of the 50-year license.

"We didn't think we had a prayer in getting that," Dollison says. "But when they decided to bury the lines, we thought, shoot, let's ask for bike lanes."

The road already has about six miles of bike lanes in each direction above Dollison's house, as well as about two miles near Ruch, he says. The five bridges between the town and the lake also have bike lanes.

The problem is connecting those pieces, Dollison says.

When Symbiotics begins the transmission-line construction this summer, the company plans to share survey and engineering work used for the line project, and even will donate crushed rock removed for its plant adjacent to the dam, Steimle says.

Crews will use the rock to create a flat base for asphalt to be laid, contributing to the bike-path project instead of hauling it elsewhere, Steimle says.

"We're happy to cooperate with those guys," he says.

Dollison says his group, the Applegate River Watch Group, will still seek grants, cash and in-kind donations to complete the actual bike lanes.

The group plans to lean on Pacific Power for some donations as well as get help from Jackson County, and they welcome their alliance with a company that just a year ago seemed like the enemy.

"We didn't have to put any pressure on them at all," Dollison says. "Symbiotics has been great."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail at

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