GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Next week marks the 40th anniversary of the first funding for a public works project that is still under construction in the Rogue Valley, which will eventually connect every town from Ashland to Grants Pass. The Bear Creek Greenway actually began as an idea more than a hundred years ago.
As Former Parks Director Neal Ledward recalls, “I’m walking the creek and going up and down the construction on the freeway. It looked like there was going to be a lot of ‘severance’ land along the freeway when the Federal government picked up the property along the creek there was a lot of leftover land. And so I started looking at that as a possibility for a park on the creek.”
And that led to the Bear Creek Park Chain in the mid 1960’s when Ledward was in charge of county parks. And then, in April 1974, the county received the first money to buy land to create the Greenway and build a bike path.
“We had saved up a lot of bike funds,” says Neal. “So, that we got it spent real quickly on making this trail right here. And this was completed in 1980 as a ‘show me’ project.”
That’s the trail near Talent, and soon the first Greenway project in Oregon got state support and funding, combined with local matching funds and over the next forty years has become a 20-mile long trail straddling Bear Creek, running from Ashland to just north of Central Point.
“It’s a great thing when you have a little flicker of imagination,” says Neal. “You get something going and then everybody else jumps on the band wagon finally, and says, ‘Boy, that’s my project!'”
“All of us who worked on this project could feel that we helped create a legacy for the valley that will be here in perpetuity that will only grow in importance as time goes by,” said Former Greenway Director, Karen Smith.
Originally, the Greenway was planned to run from Emigrant Lake, along Bear Creek to the Rogue River, and upriver to Eagle Point. Now, that plan has changed.
“Once we build this section the section this spring, it’ll be 20 miles of continuous trail, which is just a fantastic accomplishment! The long term goal remains to connect south to Emigrant Lake, and then north to the Rogue River Greenway, which connects on to Gold Hill, Rogue River and Grants Pass,” explains Jenna Stanke with Jackson County Parks.
And it was just a string of parks scattered along the creek as first imagined. Now it’s a long narrow park connected by a walking, biking, and in some places, equestrian trail. But it was originally discussed back in the 1890’s when bicycles were first becoming popular. Then it was to be a trail between the county seat of Jacksonville and Central Point.
Now work is underway to make improvements through Medford, with streamside restoration and improved lighting ahead.
“Our long term initiative is, is to make it safe, make it fun, and to have more events down on the Greenway. I think this is a very under-utilized recreational amenity that we need to embrace and have more events surrounding the Greenway and Hawthorn Park,” said Medford Park Director Brian Sjothun.
Even the first stretch near talent had to be repaved a couple years ago to remove tree root bumps. A couple years ago when ODOT made improvements to Kirtland Road, near Tolo, they included this underpass for the bikeway, looking forward to the day when it would reach this place on its way to the Rogue River. On its way it will cross this old overpass over the railroad tracks and follow Gold Ray Road to the river on its way to Gold Hill.
For now, at the northern end of the Greenway and bike trail, there are horse trails around, but eventually developers would like to be able to extend this trial on to Gold Hill, to Rogue River, and eventually to Grants Pass…to create one trail that connects all of the Rogue Valley.