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Safety is the public’s top concern when it comes to using the Bear Creek Greenway.
More than 2,200 people answered a recent survey about the paved trail that stretches from Ashland to Central Point. The survey is part of an effort to plan for the future of the Greenway.
When asked about challenges facing the Greenway, 90% of respondents said safety was their biggest concern, followed by 60% who cited maintenance issues. Smaller percentages want improvements such as water fountains and restrooms, better access to the path from surrounding communities and eradication of invasive species such as blackberries.
One-third of respondents said they don’t use the Greenway at all.
“For people who do not use it or use it only a few times a year, nearly 100% of people said that safety was the top challenge,” said Erin David, a planner with the firm Alta Planning + Design who is helping on the project called Envision Bear Creek.
People who frequently use the Greenway are less concerned about safety, but the overall majority of respondents said safety is a concern, she said.
As part of public outreach efforts, residents were able to take the survey plus post comments on an online map of the Greenway.
The map shows most of the safety concerns center on the Medford area. About half of respondents said they primarily use the Medford section of the Greenway.
"Another portion of the Greenway has been claimed by homeless people in this area. It is littered with homeless camps and trash," one person wrote about a part of the path in Medford.
People said they’ve stopped using some or all of the Greenway because of drug use, crime, trash and harassment.
"I stopped using the Greenway due to the number of aggressive (yelling, glaring, threatening) homeless people (some with big dogs) near here. The illegal camping in the blackberries makes me feel as if I’m intruding on someone else's property,“ one person wrote on the interactive map.
Another person wrote, “I was attacked by a homeless person's dog here, and it took a while for anyone to come to my rescue."
Flagging an area near Medford Railroad Park, a parent wrote, “We used to take our kids on walks to the railroad park. Did this a few years ago and were truly afraid for our safety. We will not be able to use these paths again until the transients are not allowed to destroy the area."
Aside from safety issues, people asked for improvements along the Greenway in the Medford area, including better maintenance of the paved trail, trail maps and interpretive signs, restrooms, bike racks, bear-proof trash cans and removal of blackberries. They pointed out several areas where it’s hard to see around corners, which could cause collisions among bicyclists and pedestrians. Ideas for solving that problem ranged from widening the path to installing mirrors.
Concerns about safety dropped off considerably in other towns traversed by the Greenway.
For the Ashland and Talent areas, people asked for better path maintenance to reduce bumps, water fountains, water bottle-refilling stations, more benches, a footbridge to connect the Greenway to Ashland Pond, a physical barrier to separate the path from Highway 99 where it runs next to the road, as well as more connections to the path.
People in the Phoenix area were pleased with efforts to improve access.
“The work being accomplished in the Blue Heron Park area is great. The access from local businesses such as Clyde’s Corner via a walkway to the Greenway should be a model for other sections of the Greenway. Connecting the Greenway to the community is a great value to expand,” a person wrote.
Others asked for even more trails and connecting points.
“It is wonderful to have this connection to the Industrial Studios. Wish there was more of this,” a person wrote.
Another resident suggested, “Add hiking trails along Bear Creek next to Blue Heron Park."
One person flagged a homeless encampment in the area.
For the Central Point area, people asked for better path maintenance to smooth out bumps, more access to the Greenway, improved sight lines, a new gazebo and interpretive signs about birds, the history of the area and native pollinators.
Many of the community’s ideas for improvements were echoed during an online open house in May attended by more than 35 people.
Probably in July, people can answer another survey aimed at getting feedback on how to govern the Greenway and pay for improvements, said Jackson County Roads and Parks Director Steve Lambert.
The Greenway traverses a mix of public and private lands under the jurisdiction of Jackson County, five cities and Oregon Department of Transportation.
Lambert said the governments have a joint agreement and basic levels of funding for pavement maintenance and some recreational amenities. But he said they don’t have a collective management plan or funding to take care of land surrounding the path.
The Greenway mainly travels through a riparian corridor along Bear Creek filled with grass, bushes and trees.
After the 2020 Almeda fire tore along the Greenway, Interstate 5 and Highway 99 corridor and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses, the various governments have put even more effort into suppressing and clearing out blackberry thickets and other invasive vegetation.
Consultants hired to create the Envision Bear Creek plan are researching how other communities manage and fund recreational paths that cross jurisdictional boundaries. They’re also meeting with advisory groups formed from a broad cross section of the Rogue Valley, reviewing map and survey results and making plans to gather more public input.
A proposed plan for the Greenway’s future could come out in December, David said.
For more information about the planning process and chances for future public input, see envisionbearcreek.com.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.