Jack-Ash trail plan in motion

Work is being planned for May and August on two trail routes that will nearly finish renovation of the Sterling Mine Ditch Trial, a precursor to construction of a planned Jacksonville-to-Ashland trail.

The projects will reroute short sections of the ditch trail off private land and onto Bureau of Land Management holdings to ensure continued public access.

The Siskiyou Uplands Trail Association, or SUTA, has gained approval for the links from the BLM's Medford District.

"We are closing in on the last of the projects to get the (ditch trail) up and running, then we will focus on the Jack-Ash (trail)," said SUTA board member Hope Robertson.

The project planned for May, a bypass of Armstrong Gulch, will be a mile long. Work on it could begin early next month if a comment period closes May 7 without objections. Armstrong Gulch is about two miles northeast of Buncom and connects to a road.

Work on a Grub Gulch connector could start in August. The 0.9-mile section is two miles north of Armstrong Gulch and also connects to a road.

National Trails Day will be celebrated on June 1 at the Armstrong Gulch bypass, where the group hopes to assemble volunteers to do finishing work after preliminary BLM efforts to cut the trail.

Formed in 2009, SUTA turned its attention to the Sterling Mine Ditch route the next year. The trail follows the old ditch that was created to bring water from the Little Applegate River to Sterling Creek for gold mining.

BLM and SUTA have cooperated on several projects to upgrade the ditch trail.

"We'll work together on actually constructing the trail, looking at a combination of trail crews, machines, some of their Title II funding," said John Gerritsma, BLM's Ashland Resource District field manager.

So far $63,500 in federal Tile II grants has been secured by SUTA for various projects along the trail. Volunteers, BLM and hired crews have done the work.

Grant money also paid for a draft environmental assessment completed for the two routes.

Connector work at Armstrong Gulch is estimated to cost $4,500, while the Grub Gulch work is pegged at $10,000.

The Armstrong Gulch project will take trail users off land owned by Hancock Timber Resource Group. The company has cooperated with trail access, said Robertson, but it intends to sell the acreage, and a new owner could shut off public access.

More interpretive panels and direction signs will be added to the trail, said Robertson. BLM and SUTA will publish a new brochure on the trail in May.

SUTA is finalizing an easement across private property in the Rush Creek area that would complete the ditch trail, which could be used as part of the Jack-Ash Trail.

Environmental assessment for the first phase of Jack-Ash, which would be on land in the center of the proposed trail, should begin in the next few months, said Robertson.

"The portion we will do is the part that circles around Anderson Butte and then will drop down and connect to the end of the Sterling," said Robertson.

"BLM hasn't done anything further. We are kind of waiting to see what Hope and her group are going to be doing with that," said Gerritsma. "Part of it is they need to get agreements with various land owners."

For more information, see www.blm.gov/or/distrticts/medford and www.sutaoregon.org.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

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