A crucial link in a long-awaited pedestrian and bicycle trail to the north of Rogue Valley Manor and St. Mary’s School is about to get built in east Medford, but it comes with a 75-percent higher price tag than expected.
Medford City Council last week approved a $1,756,202 contract to have JRT Construction LLC complete the 3,500-foot stretch of the Larson Creek Greenway from Ellendale Drive to Black Oak Drive. Construction will begin soon and under the terms of the contract with the city must be completed by Oct. 19. There is already a 1,500-foot section from the Bear Creek Greenway to Ellendale, and there are other stretches of the trail system east of Black Oak and adjacent to a fish-bearing stream.
The price is $750,000 more than earlier estimates, driven up by the need for a second pedestrian bridge, fencing to protect private property and the purchase of rights of way from St. Mary’s, Barnett Townhomes and Rogue Valley Manor.
The trail is part of a long-range plan to create an east-west path from Bear Creek to Prescott Park around Roxy Ann Peak. Once built, the trail would become the designated bike lane for Barnett Road.
The project has not been without controversy, including from a townhouse project and from St. Mary’s parents concerned about homeless people hanging out along the path.
“There is an unsavory element and people on the bike path who can be scary,” said Frank Phillips, president of St. Mary’s.
He said homeless campsites have been found along Larson Creek near the school in recent years. But Phillips said he personally welcomes the trail.
“I look forward to using that bike path myself,” he said.
Cross-country teams at the school also plan to use it.
He said the city plans to install an 8-foot-high fence along the path, with three locking gates to allow access for the school.
The school provided right-of-way for the path along its northern border.
Phillips said he has heard about the trail since he first started working at the school in 1989, and he wondered whether it would ever be completed.
“Here we are 30 years later, and it’s happening,” he said.
In 2014, City Council worried about the trail’s impacts on 12 townhouses after the owners complained the trail would run a few feet from the backs of their properties, which overlook the golf course.
Many property owners purchased their townhouses assuming they owned the land some 10 to 12 feet behind their decks up to a chain-link fence abutting the golf course. However, the property line is actually much closer to the townhouses, in some cases just off their back deck.
Some of the property owners have expressed concerns about vandalism or illegal camping once the trail is extended.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife officials also raised concerns about the potential loss of habitat from building the trail close to Larson Creek. Along some areas of the creek, little natural habitat remains.
ODFW found the multi-use path would result in a net loss of riparian habitat. For every 64 feet of trail, the city would plant three trees to partially offset vegetation loss. Any vegetation that is disturbed will be replaced and invasive species will be removed. Other native vegetation is expected to be added to provide shade for the stream.
Cory Crebbin, director of Medford Public Works, said the city used right of way obtained from the Manor to push the trail away from the townhouses. Also, the trail is only 10-feet wide instead of the typical 12-feet to provide more of a buffer with the backyards.
A black metal fence will be built next to the townhouses instead of a chain-link fence.
Crebbin said the city has agreed to restore much of the riparian corridor along the creek.
Original planning documents, used to base earlier estimates of just over $1 million for the trail in 2015, didn’t take into account the second pedestrian bridge, right-of-way issues and fencing requirements, Crebbin said.
Once built, the trail will be the only dedicated east-west cycle and pedestrian route in Medford.
“This is definitely a missing link,” Crebbin said.