In the year of its Golden Anniversary, the Bear Creek Greenway is at a crossroads. Again.
At least, this time, it appears there is movement toward improving the situation at what should be a community asset instead of a burden continually in the spotlight for the wrong reasons.
Potential remedies under discussion by Jackson County and the five cities encompassing the route focus on how best to govern, maintain, secure — and, SPOILER ALERT, pay for — the Greenway.
The 20-mile, multi-use trail, the first stretch of which was built through Medford in 1973, has become a flashpoint for debate over the years — as growing maintenance and safety concerns have left local, county and state officials playing a costly game of catch-up to improve the experience for those who want to take advantage of the route from Ashland to Central Point for exercise, nature watching or as a leisurely travel alternative.
Now, though, things are coming to a head.
User satisfaction numbers for the Greenway, based on surveys conducted by Medford, regularly put positive opinions in the 30% range — far below those registered for other parks in the city. The litany of issues cited by those with a negative view of the Greenway are familiar to anyone who has followed the story through the years — campsites by those without permanent housing, trash piles, hypodermic needles on the pavement, uneven maintenance, reports of harassment and threatening behavior.
Another survey, this one conducted by the Envision Bear Creek project, draws a clear distinction in opinions about the trail. Those who use the Greenway feel safe enough, while those who don’t choose not to because of its reputation.
“The data shows,” Michael Black, Ashland parks and recreation director, told the Rogue Valley Times, “that most of it is perception as opposed to reality.”
But while that might be the case, at least for various stretches, we’re living in an age where perception and reality intersect or — in the words of former tennis star and camera salesman Andre Agassi, “Image is everything.”
Changing that image, though, will (and should) take more than separating truth from fiction for the public.
Five different models for operating the Greenway are being reviewed by the county and the cities of Central Point, Medford, Phoenix, Talent and Ashland. Three of the options hinge on creating a service district of some nature that would have to be approved in a countywide vote.
And paid for through taxes.
Those who envisioned the Bear Creek Greenway some 50 years ago hoped to give resident and visitors a unique opportunity to explore portions of the county unseen through other modes of travel — and for the most part, that hope has borne out.
Good intentions, however, can only take you so far, particularly when chronic complications arise. It’s time — some would argue long past the time — that hoping things will improve is no longer the best course of action.
When it comes to the Greenway, hope needs to be set aside. So, too, do surface-level “solutions” such as the oft-expressed “just get the homeless out of there” — to where, exactly?
Difficult choices need to be made, a real plan has to come together and, if required, be presented for a vote.
And then we’ll find out, perhaps, if we actually can have nice things.
Sure, there are heavier, more "important" questions that we could ask this week. But spring has arrived, and we're in a lighter mood. Since we're in the middle of the annual cookie drive, we just had to ask which variety tickles your tastebuds. Find out more at girlscouts.org/en/cookies/how-to-buy-cookies.html.
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