Bear Creek, which starts at the merging of Emigrant and Neil Creeks, and ends at the base of the Lower Table Rock, runs through the center of the Rogue Valley and was first known by Native American Tribes as Si-ku-pat, meaning ‘dirty water.’ The creek received its English name in 1851 after a group of settlers returning from Yreka found three grizzly bears munching on an ox carcass. The settlers’ dogs chased the bears, but then the bears decided to chase the dogs (who ran back to their masters, angered bears in tow). After the resulting shootout, the settlers decided to christen the place ‘Bear Creek.’ Today, Bear Creek flows through the most urbanized section of land in Southern Oregon. While you won’t see grizzly bears standing around snacking, you might spot bikers, hikers, or several tourists taking in the scenery and trying to spot fish, including the Chinook and Coho salmon.
Because Bear Creek runs through such an urban area, runoff and litter unfortunately affect water quality. However, the non-profit Bear Creek Stewards organization hosts biannual Stewardship Days, the most recent one involving over 230 participants who picked up approximately 5,600 pounds of trash and removed an entire acre of blackberry vines. You don’t have to know anything about ecology or environmental science to join the ongoing effort. “It’s about changing the culture and viewing Bear Creek as an asset,” agreed Frances Oyung and Craig Tuss, two of the many faces behind the Bear Creek Stewards.
According to Tuss, the recent cleanup events have been built on the foundations of other community projects over the years. Recently though, these efforts have picked up speed. In 2013-2014, the Urban Medford Bear Creek Corridor Vision Statement came together with the help of a diverse group of people from various businesses, programs, nonprofits, and municipalities. The goal was to restore vitality to Bear Creek and the Greenway (the twenty-eight mile path alongside the creek), as well as to change the way locals view both of these Southern Oregon gems. “People from out of state marvel at the fact that Southern Oregon has something like the Greenway, but we only see its blemishes,” said Tuss. The vision for the future follows the urge to make the Greenway safer, and with each cleanup, the stewards feel that they’re slowly tipping the scales in that direction. Through generous foundations and support from local sponsors, the Bear Creek Stewards are able to coordinate ways to improve the quality of the creek’s water—and the quality of the Greenway experience.
“It’s more than a cleanup,” Oyung continued. “There are lots of pieces—like a nesting doll.” She went on to explain that there are multiple long-term considerations, ranging from purely environmental concerns, to social and economic worries surrounding the Greenway. Restoration is focused on interconnection. And so as Tuss and Oyung agreed, “multifaceted problems invite multifaceted solutions—and a lot of partners in the community.”
Stop Oregon Litter and Vandalism (SOLV) was a state-wide sponsor for the clean-up. In fall of 2018, after a record-breaking Fall Stewardship Day, they awarded the Bear Creek Stewards with a plaque honoring the growth of the community cleanup event. If you want to join other Southern Oregonians this upcoming fall, mark your calendars for September 28, 9:00am-12:00pm. There will be at least nine locations along the twenty-eight miles of Greenway, with a possible tenth site near the Expo. The entire event is “an opportunity for people to get involved,” said Halle Riddlebarger, the marketing manager at the Medford Food Coop. And as volunteer coordinator Michael Mace added, “People are anxious to do just that. Not only with the greenway, but with the whole downtown area.” So, put on your work clothes and team up with other caring community members to do something that matters. Even if you can’t get out and help restore Bear Creek personally, maybe your business can join as a sponsor. When the whole valley puts in this sort of effort, all the pieces come together. “It takes a village,” says Riddlebarger. But Tuss concludes, “It’s a good thing to do.”
Thanks to the newest addition to our SOREDI team, our SOU alum, Abigail Skelton, we will continue to feature some of the popular attractions located in our Southern Oregon communities. We consider each one of our towns and cities to be “jewels in the crown” that makes up Southern Oregon. If you have a story idea sparked by an inspiring local attraction, please e-mail our Communications Manager, Codi Spodnik and maybe Abigail will be giving you a call to follow up. If you are a SOREDI Member and you have some great news, please e-mail it to Codi so we can share it in our newsletter.
Bear Creek Stewards (2019). Website: http://www.bearcreekstewards.org/
LaLande, Jeff (2019). Bear Creek Valley. The Oregon Encyclopedia. Website: https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/bear_creek_valley/#.XOSLSohKiUk
Southern Oregon History, Revised. Bear Creek. Website: http://truwe.sohs.org/files/bearcreek.html