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Walking by the water.

Byline: Kelsey Thalhofer The Register-Guard

SPRINGFIELD - Rich Adams and his Schipperke dog, Jasper, will have some new ground to cover after this weekend - a few miles' worth, in fact.

The final portion of a new paved path along the Middle Fork of the Willamette River will open Friday, adding 1 1/2 miles that will complete a 4-mile stretch from Dorris Ranch in the west to Clearwater Park in the east.

The $7 million path - funded largely by federal grants - will open up a previously inaccessible portion of the Willamette and offer walkers, runners and bicyclists a new view of Mount Pisgah to the south.

It's the final stage of a more than decade-long planning, fundraising and construction effort by Willamalane Park and Recreation District, which completed the first phase of 2 1/2 miles in 2011.

Adams, who has walked the first phase of the lush riverside path but hasn't yet been able to check out the full stretch, said he is looking forward to an escape from his urban walking locales.

"It's just a great way to get out away from the traffic and into the woods," he said.

"Rather than walking city streets, you get to walk amongst the trees and see the wildlife and the natural habitat."

Plus, he said, Jasper likes a little variety.

Crews were putting finishing touches on the project Monday - adding stripes and mile markers to the path, completing a concrete retaining wall and readying a new parking lot for paving on Wednesday. The two contractors on the project are Concrete Enterprises Inc. of Salem and Delta Sand & Gravel of Eugene.

On Friday, Willamalane will host a formal grand opening ceremony at Dorris Ranch. It will include short speeches, free food and music, and an invitation to check out the path by foot, bike or complimentary pedicab.

The area's parking lot, bathroom and informational panels along the trail also will be available for use Friday.

Mike Moskovitz, Willamalane's public affairs manager, said residents from Springfield and Eugene alike have conveyed their excitement about the path's impending completion.

"People are calling us, texting us, e-mailing us and commenting on Facebook," he said.

Some say they appreciate the serenity of the path, while others see it as a convenient alternative to roadside biking, Moskovitz said.

"It's a benefit not only to Springfield, but also to the whole metropolitan area," he said.

The project received $5.5 million in federal and state transportation grants, and Willamalane contributed $1.5 million.

The final phase of the path, which runs from the Quarry Creek pedestrian bridge to Dorris Ranch, is the shortest but most costly stretch - $3.9 million for 1 1/2 miles of development. That's due to a slope along the route that called for eight retaining walls.

"It was obviously tough getting around the hill," Willamalane project manager Jake Risley said of the steep and rocky terrain. Still, the project remained within budget and will be completed on time - a week ahead of its substantial completion date, in fact.

Crews will return to start landscaping with native plants in November - the best time for planting trees and shrubs, Risley said.

They'll also install benches, finish pavement striping and spread bark mulch along the path in the months to come.

In the next two years, Willamalane plans to build a path along the Springfield Millrace that would connect to the Middle Fork path to create an 8-mile loop along both waterways and provide better access to the path from downtown Eugene.

Pedestrians and bicyclists already can connect to the existing Springfield and Eugene riverfront path system by taking South Second Street from Dorris Ranch.

Willamalane Superintendent Bob Keefer said the organization won't focus on pursuing federal funding the next time around, because it already has set aside $3 million for the project and hope to complete it quickly.

The project is the fulfillment of a long-held desire for many in and around Springfield, Keefer said.

"It feels really good to be doing what the people have told us they wanted,a... providing that closeness to nature for our community," he said.

The scenic views of the Willamette - bordered by old growth trees above and ferns below - provide a welcome escape within reach of the city, Keefer said.

"It's a beautiful stretch of river," he said. "You get out there and you don't know that the city is just a mile or two away.a...

"There's nothing like it locally."

Middle fork path grand opening

When: Noon on Friday

Where: Dorris Ranch, 205 Dorris St., Springfield

Details: Brief speeches and ribbon-cutting; free food, music and pedicab rides; visitors invited to walk, run or bike on new path

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Title Annotation:Springfield
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 22, 2013
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