Turning Toward Bear Creek
As a mom to young kids, we go to parks a lot! And as Medford residents, we often strap kids to our bikes and travel the Bear Creek Greenway along the stretch between Hawthorne Park, Bear Creek Park, and U.S. Cellular Park. We pass many trail users on our outings including runners, bikers, families with strollers and wobbling toddlers, dog-walkers, and young people on skateboards. We ring our bike bells, flash the peace sign, and carry on.
What ties us together, whatever brought us out to the trail that day, is our shared path alongside Bear Creek. In fact, people have long traveled the banks of Bear Creek, including first peoples Takelma, Latgawa, Shasta, and other tribes. There was even a plan to build a bike path along the creek as early as the 1890s!
The headwaters begin as small mountain streams that eventually flow into Emigrant and Neil Creeks which merge to create Bear Creek. All of the waterways that flow into Bear Creek make up the Bear Creek watershed, which stretches across 362 square miles in Jackson County, Oregon. Within the watershed, there are roughly 290 miles of streams and another 250 miles of irrigation canals that move water across the landscape. The Bear Creek watershed is largely forested (46%), but also dominated by agricultural (35%) and urban areas (18%). In fact, Bear Creek flows through Ashland, Talent, Phoenix, Medford, and Central Point before joining the Rogue River just upstream from Gold Hill.
Despite its prominent place in most of our towns in the Rogue Valley, Bear Creek has a long history of poor water quality. Like many urban rivers, Bear Creek has often been forgotten, pushed aside, and literally covered over in some places by the I-5 freeway. How we use the land directly impacts the health of our rivers and streams. In the case of Bear Creek, polluted runoff from agricultural lands and irrigation return flow adds bacteria, sediment, and high levels of nutrients to the water. When it rains, water that isn’t absorbed into streets, parking lots, or rooftops instead picks up pollutants and flows into Bear Creek.
The good news is that we’ve made a lot of progress since Bear Creek was first listed as polluted by the state in 1998. Changes to irrigation practices, green infrastructure projects that capture rainwater where it falls to reduce polluted runoff, and upgrading the Ashland Wastewater Treatment Plant have all played a role in improving water quality in Bear Creek. At Rogue Riverkeeper, we are working to strengthen permits and update policies that reduce polluted runoff and increase green infrastructure.
Many communities in the Rogue Valley are also gaining a new appreciation for Bear Creek. In the 1970s, the Bear Creek Greenway Foundation formed to create a multi-user greenway along the creek. Envisioned as “an emerald necklace” of parks stretching from Emigrant Lake to the Rogue River, the Bear Creek Greenway currently boasts 20 completed miles of Class I trail. It parallels the creek for much of that distance, offering users an opportunity to interact with the creek.
And there are a lot of reasons to love Bear Creek! Every year, Chinook and Coho salmon make their way from the ocean to spawn in the watersheds where they were born. Each fall, you can head out to Bear Creek and see salmon making their way up the stream!
Fish need cool, clean water to survive, and local jurisdictions, interest groups, and private organizations now meet regularly to talk creek restoration and water quality improvement to ensure that these charismatic species return year after year. Irrigation districts have reduced sediment to the creek, while some farmers have improved their management practices to reduce contamination to water. For the past 10 years, community groups, including homeless populations along the creek, have gathered to remove invasive species, plant native vegetation, pick up tons of trash.
For the Rogue!
Sara Mosser, Outreach Coordinator
Show your love for Bear Creek and join us on Saturday, September 29th at Bear Creek Stewardship Day and help clean up our creek!
Want to get involved in caring for Bear Creek? There are many opportunities!
Be part of the solution on Bear Creek Stewardship Day on Saturday, September 29th. Gather with your community to clean up the creek in the morning, then make your way over to the Bear Creek Fall Festival at Bear Creek Park in Medford for an afternoon of family fun!
Want to see salmon? Join Rogue Riverkeeper for our Salmon Strolls series. Come out for an easy walk along Bear Creek and the Rogue River to watch the return of spawning salmon to their native streams. Check our website calendar for details.
Be an active trail user! Many events take place along the greenway including The Rogue Marathon and Half Marathon, Silver Strides weekly group walks, Siskiyou Velo Bicycle Club weekly group ride, or visit any number of parks adjacent to the creek including Blue Heron Park in Phoenix, Lynn Newbry Park in Talent, and North Mountain Park in Ashland.
Get to know groups working to protect Bear Creek! Here at Rogue Riverkeeper, we aim to protect all waters in the Rogue River Basin. Our Swim Guide program collects water quality data on Bear Creek throughout the summer to monitor stream health. Consider becoming a member! (LINK)
Speak up for Bear Creek! Support City and County parks departments and funding for recreational opportunities. Attend meetings and add your voice in support of protecting clean water and this vital resource.
Love your Bear Creek!