JACKSONVILLE — Aware that creation of a dedicated trail from Jacksonville to Ashland will take a long time, a trails group pursuing that vision has gotten its hands dirty by opening up portions of another trail.

JACKSONVILLE — Aware that creation of a dedicated trail from Jacksonville to Ashland will take a long time, a trails group pursuing that vision has gotten its hands dirty by opening up portions of another trail.

Siskiyou Upland Trails Association has helped the U.S. Bureau of Land Management reopen parts of the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail that had become overgrown. The trail, from the Little Applegate area to near Sterling Creek Road, would form a loop off the proposed Jack-Ash Trail.

"Since it is in existence and dedicated to nonmotorized uses, it gives us immediate gratification," said Hope Robertson, the association's president. "It will take years to get the whole Jack-Ash trail open to the public."

BLM officials are glad to have the help. "Hope got a lot of public volunteers out there. We have worked cooperatively and really put that thing back to a very usable condition," said John Gerritsma, field manger of BLM's Ashland Resource Area. "Any time you get a strong group of volunteers, that stretches our agency's funds."

The trail work has opened up 18 miles for hikers, runners and bikers. One runner who griped about the whole trail not being open has helped with the work and run the entire length three times.

"I got tired of running all the hills," said Jim Clover, who lives in the Applegate. "I found this big, long, flat trail about 15 years ago. It wasn't all open."

The trail mostly follows the ditch that was created in 1877 to take water from the Little Applegate River to the Sterling Mine for sluicing. As a result, there's little elevation change except in one area where the ditch goes through private property. There, the trail has been rerouted.

Clover and other association volunteers have put in more than 500 hours. BLM used federal stimulus funds to clear an impassable section and do heavier work requiring chain saws.

"Word is spreading that the trail is open. Mountain bikers have been through all the way," Clover said. Horses would have a difficult time in some spots, he added, but that should be remedied by summer.

Robertson and others formed Siskiyou Upland Trails Association in late 2009 to pursue the Jack-Ash Trail, which would cross private land and government-owned acreage. BLM now will study what's needed to develop the trail system.

"We need to scope out what the work is that's involved in moving it forward," said Gerritsma. "We want to make sure we are prepared and have the support necessary to start and finish an analysis."

The trails association has created a preliminary trail map that can be viewed on its website (sutaoregon.org). The map shows a trail running from Jacksonville to Mount Ashland. A U.S. Forest Service trail would link the route to the city of Ashland.

About 80 percent of the proposed trail is on government land, Robertson said. The route would use existing trails and roads wherever possible. An old trail exists between Anderson and Wagner buttes, although a BLM road covers it in parts.

"There are many wild cards. We have not tried to approach private land owners in any sort of way," Robertson said.

The trails association's members have covered much of the route on foot already.

"It's incredibly scenic," said Robertson. "In places you can see the entire Rogue Valley and into California. What's so exciting to me is that it's close to local population centers, and yet you have this feeling of wilderness."

Information about the trails association, its proposal and upcoming Sterling Ditch Mine Trail work parties can be found at sutaoregon.org.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboom8929@charter.net.