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Love's labor not lost on Pre's Trail.

Byline: Ron Bellamy / The Register-Guard

As Geoff Hughes walked on Pre's Trail the other day, discussing the work to restore the 4.2-mile running trail that stretches from Alton Baker Park to Springfield, a majestic heron flew nearby, interrupting the conversation with its mere beauty.

In the treetops overlooking the Willamette River, Hughes has seen bald eagles, and watched them duel with osprey. In this varied parkland, with shaded forests and open meadowlands, there are foxes and pheasants and other critters.

"It's a really gorgeous trail," Hughes said. "If you're not racing, and just running, you go, `Wow.' '

Which might be your reaction anyway, if you haven't visited Pre's Trail in a year or so.

By late September, Hughes said, roughly 3 miles of the trail will have been refurbished, the old trail scraped away - and in some cases moved completely - to be replaced by a layer of geo-technical cloth, three layers of gravel, a mixture of sand and a layer of wood chips.

The trail is being widened, to 8 feet, to accommodate both heavier use and to comply with NCAA minimums, in anticipation of the University of Oregon cross country meet, the Bill Dellinger Invitational, to be held there Sept. 29.

In some places, drains have been added and the trail itself raised almost 2 feet for better winter drainage. In one place, runners from a local prep cross country team worked as volunteers to build a retaining wall. The green loop, closest to Alton Baker Park, is now lighted to as late as 11 p.m.

"If people haven't run this in a year, they wouldn't recognize it," Hughes said. "It's an entirely different trail."

And the work is particularly evident when you get to a portion of the trail yet to be upgraded.

"It's become pretty much of a major road-building project," Hughes said. "Our plan was to make this a resource good for at least 20 years through our severe weather before you have to do major maintenance on it."

A 61-year-old stockbroker who ran in the first-ever community race at Pre's Trail 31 years ago - and who runs still - Hughes has made Pre's Trail his labor of love, on behalf of the Oregon Track Club Masters. He figures he's spent 20 to 30 hours a week on it - in planning with the city of Eugene parks department, meetings with donors and suppliers, and actual physical labor - over the past three years.

"I'm actually starting to see light at the end of the tunnel," he said.

For that, Hughes thanks the contributions of the city of Eugene and money raised by the OTC, as well as the thousands of hours of volunteer labor, and the contributions by Rexius, Peterson Machinery and the Prefontaine Foundation, among others, including the University of Oregon, which kicked in $10,000 toward the completion of the green loop, to be used for the cross country race.

Hughes estimates that it could take at least $70,000 to finish the job - though volunteer efforts could cut that in half - both to complete the trail surface and to add various amenities.

The goal is to have the project completed in early 2008, before Eugene hosts the U.S. Olympic Trials for track and field.

By then, Hughes wants signs from the freeway to the trail, a destination for visitors inspired by Steve Prefontaine, the distance runner who first envisioned the venue, finished after his death in 1975.

As part of the effort to raise money for the completion of the project, and build awareness about it, the OTC is holding the Steve Prefontaine Trail Restoration Run & Walk on Labor Day morning. Participants can register at goodrace.com through Sept. 2, or at Alton Baker Park beginning 7 a.m. Labor Day morning.

The race, along the length of Pre's Trail, will highlight all that's been done, and all that still must be done. "Now," Hughes said, "we have something to show people."

Tax-deductible donations to the Pre's Trail Restoration Fund may be made to the Oregon Track Club, P.O. Box 10825, Eugene, OR, 97440.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Aug 23, 2006
Words:683
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