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—meaning you probably won’t see grizzly bears standing around snacking.
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, some of the most recent ones involving over 200 participants who work to beautify the stretch of land along the Greenway, (the twenty-eight-mile path following Bear Creek). Since the Stewardship Days initiative began in 2015, volunteers have removed over 42,000 pounds of trash and blackberry vines from the area along Bear Creek. 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 including efforts to restore vitality to the Greenway. “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) is a state-wide sponsor for the clean-ups. 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 with other Southern Oregonians helping restore Bear Creek this year, jot September 25th down on your calendars. The date coincides with National Public Land Day—and what better way to show gratefulness for our public lands than by cleaning up our local creek! Even if you can’t get out and help restore Bear Creek personally, businesses are welcome to join as sponsors. When the whole valley puts in this sort of effort, all the pieces come together. As Tuss concludes, “It’s a good thing to do.”
One Rogue Valley Strategy 5.2– Support city-specific quality-of-place initiatives that contribute to the unique identity of Southern Oregon’s communities and encourage the development of vibrant downtowns.
One Rogue Valley Strategy 5.3– Spearhead initiatives that prioritize healthy, safe, and inclusive communities.
Bear Creek Stewards (2021). 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
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