A new segment of the Bear Creek Greenway and a new parking lot for cyclists and pedestrians are now open in Central Point, extending the 18-mile trail by nearly another mile.

A new segment of the Bear Creek Greenway and a new parking lot for cyclists and pedestrians are now open in Central Point, extending the 18-mile trail by nearly another mile.

The fruit of an Oregon Department of Transportation grant, the new section begins at Upton Road on the north end of the Jackson County Fairgrounds and Exposition Park in Central Point and extends to the new parking lot at the end of Dean Creek Road. Dean Creek is a frontage road off Blackwell Road near Interstate 5's Exit 35, also called the Seven Oaks Interchange.

"It's another step toward connecting to the Rogue River Greenway," said Jenna Stanke, Jackson County's special projects manager.

A celebration of the trail's debut will begin at 4 p.m. Friday at the north end of the new section at the end of Dean Creek Road. Stanke said she's encouraging participants to bike, walk, roller blade or take a skateboard to the event. Drivers should head north on Interstate 5, take Exit 35, turn right on Blackwell, turn right again on the frontage road and drive until it dead-ends into the parking lot.

The Bear Creek Greenway Foundation, the Rogue River Greenway Foundation and local and state government agencies and municipalities have a vision of eventually creating a greenway that extends from Ashland to Grants Pass.

The new section was paid for with a $840,000 ODOT Transportation Enhancement Grant and about $100,000 in matching funds from the Bear Creek Greenway Foundation. In addition to adding a trail segment, the $940,000 project also included paving the frontage road parking area.

While its construction extended the trail, it also left a 1.5-mile gap between Upton and Pine Street because of delays in obtaining right-of-way. Cyclists can use Peninger Road to get from Pine to Upton.

Jackson County has applied for another Transportation Enhancement Grant of $1.5 million to construct the missing segment. If the county receives the grant, the greenway foundation would be required to match the sum with about $175,000, Stanke said. Construction would begin sometime in 2013-14, she said.

Despite the gap, the new segment saves bicyclists and pedestrians time and distance in traveling to the greenway from north of Central Point, said Lee Mills, president of the Bear Creek Greenway Foundation. Commuters traveling north or south between north of Central Point and the end of the greenway previously had to either cross overpasses at Interstate 5 twice, or travel on Kirtland or Table Rock roads.

The Bear Creek Greenway is a paved pathway between Ashland and Central Point and is off-limits to motorized vehicles. The Rogue River Greenway has intermittent trail segments in Grants Pass and Rogue River.

Paris Achen is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach her at 541-776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.