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Photo by Alex GeorgevitchThe 18-mile Bear Creek Greenway runs from Ashland to Central Point.

Proposal extends Bear Creek Greenway to North Mountain Park

The proposed extension of the Bear Creek Greenway from the Dog Park to North Mountain Park Nature Center is desirable, but will take a lot of time, will cost a lot of money (especially for proposed footbridges and access to private land), likely will use busy and dangerous city streets, and appears to slice through one neighborhood off Oak Street, an unwelcome prospect.

Such were the responses of two dozen well-informed residents and Greenway insiders, as they heard on Thursday a “feasibility analysis” of designs that could variously be put in place now, in a few years and many years in the future. The $35,000 study was presented by Christo Behm of Alta Planning + Design.

The most-discussed of three options avoided heavy use of city streets and building of expensive bridges and could be accomplished at reasonable cost in the near term, offering access to 11 wild acres of creekside land recently purchased by the city from Paul Mace.

It would connect Oak Street to Mountain Avenue, across the so-called Riverwalk creekside property which runs to Mountain Avenue. The path access runs from Oak Street through the residential Sleepy Hollow Drive.

Michaeldavid Uri and Ellen Waldman of Sleepy Hollow Drive expressed concern about their neighborhood becoming a potentially popular trailhead, creating parking issues and possibly becoming a sleeping spot for the homeless.

“The main entry is through Sleepy Hollow. There is no parking available in the neighborhood and it could be a big bottleneck,” said Uri, adding that while the route is deemed part of the so-called interim plan, “it could maybe be forever.”

Waldman said the entry comes off busy Oak Street into Sleepy Hollow, “a little tiny street that will get heavy use.” The proposed route runs on Nevada Street from the Dog Park, right on Oak for a third of a mile, then left on Sleepy Hollow.

Parks & Recreation Director Michael Black responded that his agency’s job is to create “connectivity” between trails, but not necessarily to make trailheads — and that using existing walkways and bikeways, where they have to, on city streets helps avoid acquisition of private land or rights-of-way.

He added that they avoid “floodways,” which flood yearly, but can build on flood plains, which are considered areas where 100-year floods happen.

Concerns were expressed for bike and pedestrian safety on Nevada and Oak streets. Black said “traffic calming measures” would be easy to implement. Black was cautioned not to use the word “multi-modal” (mixing in cars with walkways) as that would “shut it down.”

“Keep it pure,” shouted another.

Behm explained that it would be impossible to build New York’s Central Park now, but it happened because it was done at the start. The situation is similar with Bear Creek, he said, but a 50-year plan ideally aims at acquiring enough land to run the Greenway on the east side of Bear Creek for a mile-and-a-quarter, from the present Oak Street bridge area to the North Mountain Park Nature Center.

From there, plans call for it to follow the creek all the way south to Emigrant Lake. The north end now runs to Central Point.

David Jordan, president of the Greenway Foundation, which raises funding and builds community support, said the path from the Dog Park to the Nature Center is “the most aesthetic. We’d like to stay on the creek if we could. That’s the best, but there’s a lot of private land. It’s the 50-year option.”

The Foundation’s website says, “A hybrid route, combining portions of the identified routes, will likely occur for a number of reasons relating to time, money and the reality that some properties may not be available or environmentally suitable for the greenway’s extension.”

Former Medford Mayor Al Densmore, now a consultant to the foundation, said, “We need partners, private foundations, businesses and public grants, state and federal, and are helping raise interest among people who value the Greenway experience.”

Neighbor and former city Parks Commissioner Tom Pyle said the goal is to get the so-called “interim plan” built. Black said the next step is many public meetings, including “nods” from the Parks and Transportation Commissions.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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