While still in planning stages, trail would have to cross BLM as well as private land

JACKSONVILLE — A dream to link the trail systems in Jacksonville and Ashland is germinating among local hiking enthusiasts.

Organizer Hope Robertson, of Jacksonville, says there are many questions to answer and issues to consider as proponents explore the possibility of a trail that would cross government and private land to link the two towns, which are about 12 linear miles apart.

"The thought is that there's a whole trail system in Ashland and a whole trail system in Jacksonville, and then there are other trails that many more folks use all the time," Robertson said. "This could be part of a strategic plan to develop a nonmotorized system."

Robertson has contacted local Bureau of Land Management officials to set a date for an initial meeting later this month. Any possible link would need to cross BLM land. She also has talked with hikers, bicyclists, horse riders, private land owners, the Jacksonville Woodlands Association and the Ashland Woodlands and Trails Association.

"To say it's preliminary is certainly the truth. This is going to take a long time if this is going to happen," said Rob Cain, president of the Ashland trails group. "There's a lot of possibilities on paper. There's no other trail that actually gets you in the general direction they are trying to come from."

John Gerritsma, field manager for the Ashland Resource District of the Bureau of Land Management, wrote in an e-mail to Robertson that the idea "sounds really exciting," but said officially the agency can't comment at this point.

"BLM really has nothing to say. We don't even know what the thinking is and we haven't even met with these folks yet," Gerritsma said.

"We've been meeting with various people and getting everyone up to speed. Everybody is so excited about this," said Robertson, who helped develop a trail system in New Jersey on private land.

"We are gradually working it out and meeting with all these different groups."

Multiple route options are under exploration. A trail might run along Anderson Ridge Line, including all the peaks from Wagner Butte to Anderson Butte and Jacksonville, said Robertson. The trail may have access from Talent, Phoenix and Medford, as well as Ashland and Jacksonville. Sterling Ditch Trail, a historic route, might be included.

"We're talking about trails that go up to probably about 5,500 feet in elevation," said Cain. "It will be a strenuous activity to go from Ashland to Jacksonville, but there will be people who do it, no doubt."

"There's just a lot of trails in there that may be OHV (for off-highway vehicle users), but are the ones nonmotorized (folks) use also," said Robertson. "We want to make sure we can have trails where we go and not be run over."

Rocky Houston, trails coordinator for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, has been in contact with organizers. Houston says the state can provide technical assistance and planning.

The state also oversees four grants that could help with funds. He said trails that link Yachats to Cape Perpetua and Eugene to the Pacific Crest Trail appear to be similar.

"I'm here to be a facilitating resource to help her through the pitfalls," said Houston. "We want trails without borders so you don't know you're moving from one jurisdiction to another."

"It may take years to come. You have to start somewhere," said Robertson. "This is a long-term, big vision project. The hope is to get something in place for future generations."

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland.