Hidden 'danger'

    Linda Kestner and Bengt Hamner of Jacksonville walk along the Sara Ziegler trail near Jacksonville Saturday, blissfully unaware of the dangers lurking nearby. - Jamie Lusch

    They live among each other most of the year — often side-by-side — but when autumn rolls around they want less to do with each other than Beaver and Duck fans.

    Their mutual distrust is irrational, of course, since both camps have more to fear from a swarm of bees or a wet pooch than they do from each other.

    Hikers and hunters traditionally don't play well together in the public forests of Southern Oregon each fall, particularly when the start of general deer and elk seasons for rifle hunters interrupts a summer's worth of quiet hikes.

    Hunters don't like a bunch of hikers noisily strolling through hunting country, while hikers often feel like the shy Labrador hiding under the bed during Fourth of July fireworks demonstrations.

    That annual dichotomy replays itself again Saturday during the start of the general rifle season for black-tailed buck deer in Western Oregon.

    Thousands of rifle hunters will fan out across federal Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service lands ringing the Rogue Valley, areas that hikers have had mostly to themselves all summer, aside from a smaller and quieter contingent of stealthy archery hunters.

    The tension between the two ilks is mainly psychological.

    Statistics show that hikers have little to fear from hunters. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife records show no hiker has ever been wounded or killed by a hunter. In fact, the statistics show hunters are far more apt to shoot each other or themselves.

    Hikers and hunters look for vastly different and competing experiences from the same woods. So that usually means hikers stay home beginning each October.

    But that doesn't have to be.

    There are plenty of places around the Rogue Valley where hikers can commune with nature this weekend without wearing blaze orange and worrying about flying projectiles.

    The five hiking trails outlined below are within lands where hunting is banned, but that doesn't mean they're entirely safe. Every trip into the woods can be fraught with perils.

    And just like threats in the huntable woods, hikers face real and psychological dangers in these Top 5 Hikes Without Hunters in the Rogue Valley.

    Prescott Park

    Roxy Ann Peak, Medford

    Imminent Threat: Poison oak

    The top of Roxy Ann Peak includes Medford-owned Prescott Park, which offers a heart-pumping hike for under-appreciated views of smoke-choked Medford.

    When the wildfire smoke is gone, the panoramic scene from the peak offers something — like rafting the Rogue River or visiting the Rogue River Rooster Crow — that every Rogue Valley resident should experience at least once.

    Hikers can either walk the road to the top or take the Madrone and Manzanita trails that switch-back along the side. Either route is less than 11/2; miles, but they're rather steep.

    Just don't step a hair off either path or you will run into poison oak the size of pine trees.

    "I call it old-growth poison oak," says Bev Power, customer-service specialist for the Medford Parks Department. "Anyone allergic to that stuff shouldn't be there."

    To reach the trails, take Hillcrest Road east to Roxy Ann Road. Drive through the first unlocked gate and park off the road just before the second gate, where the park property begins. Make sure to leave room for passing rock-quarry trucks.

    For a full low-down on Prescott Park, visit www.playmedford.com.

    Lithia Park, Ashland

    Imminent Threat: Hacky Sackers

    Walk past a small circle of Lithia faithful and you run the risk of getting beaned by a wayward Hacky Sack kicked recklessly by a teenager who clearly didn't identify his target or the field behind it.

    Once you survive that gauntlet along the grass near the trailhead, the post-tourist-season hike through Lithia Park is a fine, all-weather affair through nature located right off downtown's Lithia Plaza.

    The main trail is wide enough for hikers to walk shoulder-to-shoulder and actually have a conversation should they choose. With more than four miles of trails through 93 acres, there are plenty of safe havens the Hacky Sackers have never seen.

    Jacksonville Woodlands Association trail system, Jacksonville

    Real Threat: Glory Holes

    About six miles of trails snake through the Jacksonville Woodlands behind Britt Festival grounds, zig-zagging through some 1800s-era Jacksonville mining territory that has its historic pitfalls.

    They are called Glory Holes, pits where miners dug straight down looking for gold veins, only to stop digging when they couldn't throw the dirt high enough to make it out of the holes.

    Fall into one and it becomes an Oh &*@! Hole.

    Someone actually drove a car into one, and it was gated off so hikers wouldn't fall in.

    Last year, a black-tailed buck deer became trapped in a Glory Hole, and Oregon State Police Senior Trooper Jim Collom had to lasso the deer by its antlers and hoist it to safety.

    Getting roped-out by Collom is not a what-did-you-do-last-weekend story anyone wants to share by the water cooler.

    Talent Irrigation District Ditch Trail, Ashland

    Real Threat: Unleashed dogs

    This urban trail follows a small canal right-of-way as it snakes among some wonderful homes above the boulevard in Ashland.

    It runs from a trailhead off Piedmont Drive laterally through Strawberry Lane before dead-ending in a manzanita grove. From end-to-end the hike takes about 50 minutes.

    That's unless Beethoven slobbers on you.

    The Ditch Trail is rife with dog people who think the leash rules posted at the trailhead is for other dogs, not their perfect little hair-ball. These owners think the stuff they have to scoop and bag doesn't stink, so their dogs are left to run unchecked and uncontrolled, while the owners lag behind with the leash slung over his or her shoulder.

    When other dogs jump on people, these wayward owners say, "That dog's a nuisance." When their dog does it, they say, "It's just being friendly."

    One man's best friend is another's worst fiend.

    Lower Table Rock, Sams Valley

    Real Threat: Class Outings

    First, scan the parking lot for school buses. If any are present, immediately drive to one of the four previously listed locations.

    Those who don't should be asked to sign a waiver saying they understand and accept the possibility that they could be swamped by a tsunami of fourth-graders without notice.

    Those kids run down that trail at such warp speed they can't possibly contain their sweaty exuberance.

    If you are lucky enough to dodge the backpacks, water bottles and stomping from size-5 skateboarding shoes, finish the gradual ascent of nearly two miles to a marvelous oasis on top.

    Lower Table Rock can be reached by driving north on Table Rock Road past Modoc Road to Wheeler Road. Turn left on Wheeler Road to reach the trailhead. At the trailhead parking lot, keep an eye out for a slew of Subaru hatchbacks. That's a clear sign of clandestine kiddie carpools.

    Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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