MEDFORD, Ore. –20 miles, it’s a stretch of land many people call “home” but a place others like Tess Minnick fear to venture into alone, especially at night.
“We always lock the doors and make sure we close curtains,” she said. “I wouldn’t say paranoid, but it’s not always a fun place to hear things at nighttime.”
Minnick lives just a few steps away from the Bear Creek Greenway in Medford. The multi-use pathway connects Rogue Valley communities from Ashland to Central Point.
According to the Bear Creek Greenway Foundation, city planners of the late 20th century envisioned it as a park corridor extending from Ashland to Rogue River to be enjoyed by bicyclists, walkers, runners, and families.
But with the homeless population in Jackson County on the rise in recent years, Lt. Mike Budreau of the Medford Police Department says the greenway’s developed a reputation for “other” things.
“You’re walking into an area that, yea, is their bathroom, is also where they discard their needles if they’re using drugs, and there’s just a lot of general trash… and food… and they’re very unkempt and dirty,” he said.
Now, at least once a month, MPD and other law enforcement agencies along with inmates from the Jackson County Jail, get their rubber gloves on and watch where they step.
“When they’ve reached to the point that they’re camping along the greenway, they’re at a very low point in their lives and they’ve probably discarded a lot of help along the way,” he said.
Lt. Budreau estimates at any given time there are over 50 homeless camps on the greenway. And during every sweep, MPD encounters around 20 to 40 people.
Each of them is given a citation for illegal camping; many have outstanding warrants for other crimes.
“We clean the area and then we find when we come back a week later, two weeks later, or a month later… it may not be the same person, but there’s somebody else there,” he said. “And it is a constant battle that we face, but we feel it’s a necessary battle.”
It’s a problem all five cities the greenway runs through are well-aware of.
“About two or three years ago we saw those issues more or less explode,” said Jackson County Roads and Parks Director, John Vial. “And we have been struggling to keep up with that.”
Vial says each city agreed back in 2017 to allocate money for “routine maintenance,” a part of which pays for inmate crews cleaning up the Greenway.
“Sometimes it’s a fairly simple task. Other times it’s an enormous task where they’re filling forty-yard dumpsters completely full of trash and having to remove it,” he said.
The five cities and Jackson County each year spend $100,000 on major maintenance on the greenway, $66,000 on staffing a park ranger, and $57,600 on routine maintenance.
That’s over $220,000 every year, but Vial says that number only scratches the surface.
“Those other costs are being born by the county and by the cities,” he said.
According to the most recent numbers: The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office spends just over $46,000, the Medford Police Department spends $30,000, Central Point Police spends $12,000, Phoenix Police spends $10,000, Ashland Police spends $2,000, and Talent Police spends $1500.
That’s another $100,000 each year.
“It’s kind of sad,” said Minnick. “Because there’s a lot of people that need help and some of them I realize won’t accept that or whatever the situation is but it does make it a little scarier of a place to be when you see so many homeless people or see so many people on drugs or alcohol around beautiful places like the park.”
In part two of this exclusive report on Tuesday, how the greenway is impacting local fire agencies and why they don’t respond to every call.
“It gets difficult to not only respond to those fires correctly but also to make sure that we are always keeping life safety a number one priority,” said Melissa Cano, Medford Fire-Rescue.
Click here to watch part two.
Amanda Rose is a multimedia journalist for NBC5 News. Amanda graduated from Columbia University earning a Master’s degree in Journalism. She also received a Bachelor’s degree in English with a specialization in literature from the University of British Columbia.
She’s a Los Angeles native, but is thrilled to return to the beautiful Pacific Northwest and is passionate about reporting on the criminal justice system.