The Greenway Pt. 3: Human waste, trash, and toxic levels of bacteria

JACKSON COUNTY, Ore. — “You can pick up your trash or I can cite you for littering,” said a Central Point police officer.

It’s a situation Central Point police officers say is “all too common.”

“She could probably use at least one bag to carry her stuff away,” the officer said.

Police say the man and woman had set up an illegal camp with piles and piles of trash, but they didn’t leave willingly.

“Driving a police car and I’m in uniform and you can see my badge right,” the officer said to the man and woman. “Do you understand that I’m a police officer?”

The two were cited for illegal camping. The officers picked up what was left behind.

Businesses say they too deal with similar issues, but without a badge.

John Olson Sr. owns “Rogue Valley Square Dance Center” off of Table Rock Road in Medford.

Back in 2017, NBC5 News did a story on the non-profit. Olson was concerned about safety with nearly 30 homeless camps behind his building.

Today, Olson says the camps are still there and so is the trash… around 16 tons of it.

“There’s a lot of druggies, a lot of drug problems, and I’ve seen the sheriff have to chase somebody down here… and it’s not safe for them to be chasing through these woods at night time,” Olson said.

He says 15 to 20 transients go behind his property every day.

“[They] broke open our air conditioner that was $1,500 to replace it. [They] broke into our garage and stole at least $2,000 worth of copper wire that we take up to Diamond Lake to put lights up,” said Olson.

He says the problem doesn’t go away even after police clean up trash and cite people for illegal camping.

“They get out of here, go somewhere else, and then two or three days after the sweep has gone through, they move back,” Olson said.

Despite the consistent sweeps, so much of the drugs, trash, and human waste along the greenway ends up somewhere else.

“Bacteria levels in Bear Creek is an issue. It’s why Bear Creek was listed as a water quality limit stream,” said Craig Tuss, Rogue Valley Council of Governments.

The Rogue Valley Council of Governments is one of many organizations that’s spent the last several years attempting to restore the ecological system in Bear Creek.

“High E. coli, high bacteria, high turbidity, and high water temperatures,” said Tuss.

He says their work includes planting fire-resistant plants, limiting the number of blackberry bushes, and measuring water quality levels on a monthly basis.

“Bear Creek right now is not swimmable, fishable, and you can’t drink water out of it,” he said.

In some parts, Tuss says bacteria levels are five times what they should be.

“To me, it’s a shame that Bear Creek is in the backyard of everybody but nobody can really enjoy it because of the issues that we talked about,” he said.

Coming up in part 4 of this exclusive report, what’s to come of the people who live on the greenway as a means to survive? Hear from people who call the greenway “home” and why they say police are doing more to hurt the problem than help it.

“I had a gun held to my head at one point,” said Keeishan Andersen who lives on the Bear Creek Greenway.

Catch the next part of this series on Thursday only on NBC5 News.

If you missed part 3, click here.

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