Trail Route and History
The concept for creating a trail system linking Jacksonville and Ashland was first launched at a meeting of the Applegate Neighborhood Network in late 2008. The Siskiyou Upland Trail Association, or SUTA was formed to accomplish this mission. Our interest stemmed from a desire to develop and ensure protection of prime recreational opportunities for hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, running, and other “muscle-powered” activities in our region. Of particular interest was the idea to have a great trail system within an easy drive of the population centers in the Rogue and Applegate Valleys. Linking the wonderful existing trail systems in Ashland and Jacksonville via the ridgeline between them seemed a natural route, providing the perfect landscape for a ‘front country’ getaway and spectacular scenery. Historic trails along the scenic ridgeline between Wagner Butte and Anderson Butte have long been used by hikers, equestrians and bicyclists. In fact, these trails were already in use in the 1920s as a link between the fire lookout towers on Wagner and Anderson Buttes. Most of our trail system will be on public lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), although near Wagner Butte the trail will cross into U.S. Forest Service Land. A few small sections of the trail will need to cross private property.
In addition to following the ridgelines between Ashland and Jacksonville, at Anderson Butte our proposed trail route connects to the historic Sterling Mine Ditch Trail (SMDT). We have reopened much of the original SMDT and incorporated it into the Jack-Ash trail system because this 26-mile-long trail was already restricted to non-motorized use, and connecting it to the Ashland-Jacksonville trail system creates a long loop with multiple trailheads around a large section of Anderson Butte. Over time, other trails may be added to create trail loops, especially near areas with easy public access.
The Benefits of SUTA’s Trails
In addition to the wonderful recreational opportunities provided by this community trail system, it is important to recognize the economic values associated with creating and maintaining a trail system. For starters, Southern Oregon has focused on developing tourism to take advantage of its natural and cultural resources such as the Rogue River, Crater Lake, and the Britt Festival, and Oregon Shakespeare Festivals. Having a well-designed, easily accessed trail system that offers a taste of Southern Oregon’s beautiful open spaces in close proximity to its urban areas adds yet another draw for visitors to our region. Trail systems create economic value for the region as visitors and local residents take advantage of local lodging, eat at local restaurants, buy supplies for a picnic, or rent a bike. Second, numerous studies on the economic benefits associated with trails show that real estate values for homes adjacent to or near a trail system tend to increase. A 2002 survey of home buyers conducted by the National Association of Realtors and the National Association of Home Builders showed that the proximity to trails ranked second among the 18 most important attributes of a community. Studies of trail systems in Washington state and Ohio indicated that properties adjacent to their trails sold faster and for 5-9% more than similar properties not located near the trails. Outdoor activities are a major draw for both residents and visitors and the Jack-Ash trail system will expand this draw.
Blazing the Trail – Our Plan
Our vision is to use existing trails or roads whenever possible in order to minimize the challenges and cost of creating a new trails. In our preliminary efforts to pinpoint the trail route, we will rely on a variety of resources to make sure our trails avoid damaging any sensitive resources, such as fragile steep slopes, rare plants, or key wildlife habitat. Once we have developed a proposed route, we coordinate with BLM and the community to gain approval for a final trail route through the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process. Since part of the planned route nearer Ashland crosses US Forest Service land, we will also partner with them to finalize the trail route. At a few points along the trail we will need to create new trail sections either on BLM, USFS, or privately owned lands. SUTA is using a phased approach to develop the Jack-Ash Trail because of the total number of miles and many partners that we need to work with to achieve our mission. It will take several years to complete the process and new trail sections will be opened as we complete each phase.
We are working with the Ashland Woodlands and Trails Association and the Jacksonville Woodland Trails Association and the City of Jacksonville to coordinate where the Jack-Ash trail will link with their trail systems. On the Ashland end of the trail, there is an existing trail that crosses over Wagner Butte and ends on the USFS road slightly south of Wagner Gap. This is where the Jack-Ash trail will connect with the Ashland trail system. At the other end there are a number of options for linking to the Jacksonville trail systems. Because much of the land immediately around Jacksonville is privately owned, we will need to work with landowners to gain permission for a trail across their land. The outcome of this process will determine the final Jack-Ash trail route into Jacksonville. An additional option for reaching Jacksonville will be to connect with the northern segment of the Applegate Ridge Trail as it connects to the Jacksonville Forest Park Trails. The trail map shown on this website shows this possible option for the route.
Where are we now?
Phase I of the Jack-Ash Trail was completed in 2017. This included building 6 miles of new trails from Griffin Lane (about 7 miles south of Jacksonville) to the top of Anderson Butte. Phase I connects with both ends of the SMDT, and creates an approximately 40 mile loop using Anderson Butte Road and Rush Creek Road as part of the route.
Phase II was approved in April 2021, and includes 11 miles of new trails with several new connections within the existing SMDT and Jack-Ash trails and a segment at the northern end of the overall route. The new miles of trails will create options for users to enjoy multiple trail loops of varying lengths. We are fundraising and applying for grants to begin construction as soon as possible in 2022. The cost for building all of the Phase II trails will be approximately $150,000, so it is a big project for our small, all-volunteer non-profit organization and will likely take 2 or 3 years to obtain all the needed funding and complete construction.
SUTA plans to continue identifying the potential Phase III trail route to continue expanding to Ashland and Jacksonville (via the Applegate Ridge Trail). SUTA will work with BLM, US Forest Service, and private landowners to move forward to develop the remainder of the trail route.
We focused much of our initial efforts on re-opening the SMDT. SUTA volunteers successfully reopened parts of the SMDT that had become overgrown and impassible by 2011. We also developed an additional access trail connecting the northern end of the SMDT to Grub Gulch (part of the way up Anderson Butte), and work continually to maintain the trail. At this time (early 2022), we have obtained funding for 3 years of weed whacking all of the single-track trails, and the previous 2 years of this level of maintenance have been incredibly successful at clearing encroaching vegetation. SUTA also hosts monthly volunteer work parties through the winter and spring to complete additional maintenance activities. Our volunteers are an important part of what we do, and the work parties are a great way for local residents and trail users to connect and contribute to maintaining this special resource, plus, it’s really fun! We will continue to apply for grants to maintain this trail resource for community use. This is a large trail system and continued community involvement will be needed over the years to keep these trails open for all to enjoy. We look forward to this, as it is a delightful excuse to be outside in our beautiful Southern Oregon countryside, get some exercise, and meet new friends.
The entire trail project will take a number of years to gain formal approval. Fortunately, because large sections of the future trail system are on public lands and exist as currently used BLM roads or old trails, the public can begin to enjoy many sections of these trails before we gain official recognition. As we identify the possible routes for the Jack-Ash Trail we will be updating our maps and indicating where it is possible to hike, ride, and bicycle so that we all can enjoy the future Jack-Ash trail system. While some of the areas requiring new trails will take longer for approval and trail development, we encourage everyone to begin to use those portions that are open to the public now. Thank you for your interest. We look forward to meeting you out on the trails, whether you are on a short stroll, a long-distance run, a bike, or a horse!