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Making headway on the Greenway

Plans are shaping up to extend the Bear Creek Greenway approximately 1.3 miles further southeast to North Mountain Park. One of the first steps in making expansion plan into a reality was discussed and approved at the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission meeting Monday night.

The first section of the Greenway was built in the 1970s. Sections were added as property became available with the plan to continue expanding.

Currently the biking and hiking path extends 17.9-miles from Central Point on the north to the dog park west of Oak Street in Ashland. A short section was added recently behind the new residential development connecting the dog park to Nevada Street.

A feasibility study conducted by Alta Planning and Design showed that continuing the path nearest Bear Creek would fulfill the project goals which include finding the most direct route, feeling safe and interacting with nature. However, that specific route, referred to as the permanent or preferred route, will be the most difficult to construct due to the need to cross the creek in one or more locations. What’s even more challenging is the fact that about 90 percent of that trail is on private property, meaning that the city would have to acquire all those properties according to Michael Black, APRC director.

“We want it to link the neighborhoods and maximize use of public property,” Black said.

This route would cost roughly $2.5 million, not including the cost of acquiring the properties.

“We only own about 10 percent of that trail,” Black said. “We don’t even have an estimate on what that other 90 percent would be.”

Although this path meets the planning considerations, it may not be a viable route in the near future. So, two other options were discussed. The second option, called the short-term option, would be a quicker means to still extend the path to North Mountain Park, but it takes the trail away from the creek. However, this option is more feasible while resources are acquired to build the preferred route.

The short-term route follows the new section to Nevada Street, continues down Nevada Street and cross a bridge over into Kestrel Park and would continue to North Mountain Park along pathways mostly already constructed. However, the floodway over Kestrel park would cause for a very expensive bridge possibly costing in the millions because it would need to be about 200 feet long to survive expected flooding.

“It’s important to realize right now that we haven’t done surveys and we haven’t hired on an engineer or anything like that,” Black said.

A third route, or interim route, was suggested in case the first two options be delayed due to fiscal or other constraints.

“(This path) follows existing paths near the wastewater treatment plant, continues along Nevada Street and Oak Street, and connects back to the Bear Creek Greenway from Sleepy Hollow Street through the city’s recent Mace Property acquisition,” according to a staff report.

This route provides a quality alternative option but is not recommended as part of the Bear Creek Greenway.

Variations to the trails were discussed by the commissioners. Commissioner Jim Lewis said he felt that at this point it was too early to discount any of the options.

“We want more connectivity in the future, so we really shouldn’t negate any of this right now because it’s so fluid,” Lewis said.

Commissioner Rick Landt suggested a change in the draft that the proposed upstream bridge through River Walk on the preferred route be moved to the opposite side of the creek where it is the same location as the proposed short-term route. It was agreed that the route on the north side of the Bear Creek be retained as an alternative route.

“This is the most logical route and it creates the least obstacles,” Landt said.

The draft was passed unanimously by APRC with the one change. A second motion was unanimously passed for APRC to complete the interim route from the dog park to North Mountain park.

Now that the Transportation Commission and APRC has approved the draft, the next step is to move it along to the City Council. In the meantime, APRC will begin looking into estimates for some of the engineering intensive areas, including areas requiring bridges.

In a separate interview Black said that, if everything goes well, fast and funds are found, his hope is that the interim route could be ready by 2020.

Lee Mills, a Greenway board member and past president of the Bear Creek Greenway Foundation, said the extension through Ashland makes the most sense.

“Ashland is probably one of the most bike friendly communities in our valley,” Mills said. “They of all towns should have a path that goes through town, so you don’t have to go all the way to the north end of town to connect to the Greenway trail.”

He said North Mountain Park was selected as a stopping point for the first Ashland expansion because a route to the park could follow Bear Creek closely, which is what the entire trail aims to do.

“The goal is basically to try and stay as close to the creek as possible,” Mills said.

This project has been a collaboration between APRC and many other organizations, including Ashland Public Works and the Greenway Foundation.

According to the foundation website, the ultimate goals include expanding past North Mountain Park all the way to Emigrant Lake, as well as expanding north to connect to the Rogue River Greenway, which would link the communities of Gold Hill, Rogue River and Grants Pass.

Contact Daily Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

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