The roots of the Bear Creek Greenway stretch back to the 1890s, even though the trail got its formal start in the early 1970s.
Bicycles were still fairly rare new contraptions around these parts when Jackson Country commissioners first envisioned a bike path from Central Point to Ashland through Jacksonville, said Bear Creek Greenway Coordinator Karen Smith.
To pay for the bike trail, the county levied a $1.25 tax against all bicycles in 1899, and it was paid on 400 bicycles, old tax records show. Exactly what happened to the money and the plan is lost in the fog of time, local historians report.
The idea of a park corridor along the banks of Bear Creek popped up again in a proposal and study by a Chicago planner and architect, Jacob Crane, who was an adviser hired by the city of Medford.
In the 1960s when the county park system was growing, planners envisioned “an emerald necklace” of park land stretching from Emigrant Lake near Ashland to the Rogue River, Smith said. The Oregon Legislature approved plans for a greenway trail along the Willamette River, causing enthusiasm for a Southern Oregon trail to surge. The commissioners set aside the first land for the greenway, and the University of Oregon completed a plan for a “park chain” along Bear Creek.
In 1973, a young state representative named Al Densmore offered up a bill creating the Bear Creek Greenway, and the legislation enabled Jackson County of proceed with planning and land acquisition for a nearly 30-mile-long trail from the creek’s source at Emigrant Creek to a spot near Eagle Point where Bear Creek flows into the Rogue River. That same year, the Oregon Department of Transportation built 3.4 miles of trail through the city of Medford, a Mail Tribune story on the history of the greenway reported in 1996.
Smith, who is set to retire this year, was named greenway coordinator in 1977 to manage the growing project and the grants that trickled in from various sources. In 1986, the private nonprofit Greenway Foundation was set up to receive donations and promote the trail.
Plans for a Rogue River Greenway, which would link with the Bear Creek Greenway in Central Point and continue to Grants Pass, have set the stage for further dreaming and construction. The Rogue River Greenway Foundation incorporated in 2004, and the grand opening of the first paved mile was celebrated in August 2007.
The Bear Creek Greenway Foundation was created in 1985 to help acquire land for the Bear Creek Greenway vision included in park plans in the early 1960’s. Steady progress has been made through vision and planning, land acquisition, and finally, engineering, trail design and construction. When this “close the gap” segment is complete, nearly 20 miles of trail will be enjoyed by bicyclists, walkers, runners, school groups, families and children. This trail provides a contiguous, environmentally-sound recreation and active transportation facilityenjoyed by many Rogue Valley residents. Current examples of use include the Silver Striders (a 55-and-older group that walks the Greenway trail twice a week and has for more than 15 years), the Rogue Run (a half-marathon held on the Greenway whichstarted in 2011 and attracted more than 600 people ), and the Slo-Mo bicyclist group of the Siskiyou Velo, which regularly rides on the Greenway. Local schools also utilize the Greenway. The Greenway Foundation produced a workbook for schools to use for educational purposes relating to the Greenway.
Since the Bear Creek Greenway Foundation’s inception in 1985, countless citizens have worked diligently, assisted by local, county, state and federal efforts, to realize the dream of acquiring land and building a trail along or near Bear Creek to connect Rogue Valley communities. The spine/backbone of this trail system is known as the Bear Creek Greenway. The vision of building a trail through the Bear Creek Valley was grand and the task seemingly insurmountable yet, remarkably, the trail now extendsover 18 miles. The communities of Central Point, Medford, Phoenix, Talent and Ashland are now connected by the trail system. One 1.4-mile gap remains to connect the existing trail system to create 20 contiguous miles and provide a complete route from Ashland through the Jackson County Fairgrounds in Central Point. Continued public support is vital in providing funds for the completion of this short gap in the 20-mile trail.. The Bear Creek Greenway corridor is a primary asset of our community for recreation, education, sporting events and for wildlife. An additional important function of the Greenway is to provide a buffer of natural habitat between the creek and nearby developed and agricultural lands.