Medford's Prescott Park is in the midst of its most significant recreation makeover in eight decades as crews carve out mountain-biking trails that riders say will be a new destination for two-wheeled, backwoods cyclists.
Contractors armed with chainsaws and small excavators are creating 6.8 miles of new trails that will run from the top of Roxy Ann Peak to the current parking area at the end of Roxy Ann Drive.
"We've always done road work and small-trail work, but really this is the first thing on this kind of scale," says Pete Young, the project coordinator for Medford Parks and Recreation Department.
The new trail is designed for mountain bikers to ride up the existing road to the top, then bomb downhill to the parking lot on a rough, undulating trail complete with features like banked turns and exposed rocks. It's also intended to help separate the cyclists from the many hikers and dog walkers who use the current road and trail system.
The "flow trail" represents the guts of the first phase of the city of Medford's long-term plan to add more than 30 miles of various trails for hikers, mountain bikers, equestrian riders and perhaps even wheelchairs on an Americans with Disabilities Act accessible trail.
But the first work will be this trail designed by mountain bikers for mountain bikers.
"It'll be one of the longest trail networks around," says Bob Bronze, vice president of the Rogue Valley Mountain Bike Association, whose members will help maintain the trail. "It's a big deal for people who ride."
City surveys show repeatedly that residents want access to outdoor recreational opportunities at places like Prescott Park, the city's rustic, 1,740-acre park that has seen little recreational development since Civilian Conservation Corps work in the 1930s.
"They want a place to go nearby in the outdoors to decompress after work," Young says. "Something simple to hike in the woods or something more sophisticated, like this."
To accomplish the goal, Medford-based contractors Ken Baughman of Yakima Construction and subcontractor Bob Odell of Nature Bound Construction are plodding their way through a sea of poison oak as they follow the trail route flagged two months ago by a Colorado firm specializing in such trails.
Odell pops out boulders and scratches the trail into the surprisingly moist dirt on the peak's northeast side in an area where few people have ever stepped.
The excavator bucket whacks out the roughly 4-foot-wide trail, leaving rocks in the trail and larger boulders off-trail for added features later. Switchbacks are banked for riding ease, the contour is designed to minimize water build-up and erosion, and different stretches follow different grades.
"It's pretty low impact," Odell says. "These excavators make for a pretty clean system."
Odell says he can go about 600 feet a day as he starts at one end of one stretch and Baughman at the other. Finer trail design will follow once the route is completed.
The trail should be rideable by fall, Young says. The $148,457 contract calls for the work to be done by then, but Young believes the crews will be done before the brunt of the summer wildfire season hits and work restrictions increase.
Park access will be blocked today and Saturday for dust-abatement work on the roadway, Young says. The park will reopen Sunday and close again Monday for three days to ensure any loose boulders from trail excavation don't endanger visitors or damage vehicles, he says.
The construction for this phase of the project includes a tripling of the parking area at the end of Roxy Ann Drive, a concrete pad for a portable toilet, a kiosk for maps, and etiquette and trail signage.