Willamalane and TEAM Springfield celebrated the completion of the Mill Race Path on Thursday at the Booth-Kelly trailhead. The project features three miles of paved bicycle and walking path along the historic waterway, plus trailheads at Jasper Road and the Booth-Kelly site on South Fifth Street.
“We constructed the Mill Race Path because of the history that it has for Springfield, the ecological education benefits for users of the path, and also to serve as a transportation option for people who want to travel from downtown Springfield to the Thurston Hills,” said Vincent Martorello, Willamalane superintendent. The millrace, which city founders dug by hand in the 1850s, was instrumental in developing Springfield’s timber industry.
Now, the millrace is appreciated for its beauty and ecological diversity. “[The path] will be an amazing wildlife opportunity for folks,” said Gino Grimaldi, city manager for the city of Springfield. “You’ll see many deer, birds and native plants along the millrace. People can go just a short distance and see things they won’t get to see in an urban environment.”
The Mill Race Path, which connects the downtown area to the 4-mile Middle Fork Path, also offers a practical opportunity for bicycle commuters to make their way across town. Robin Mayall, a member of the Springfield Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, lives a short distance from the Jasper Road Trailhead and works for Lane Transit District. “Normally when I commute by bike, I have to go by Main Street, which is a pretty high-traffic, high-speed street.” Mayall said the Mill Race Path will make her commute to work safer and more enjoyable.
Restoration of the millrace itself has been a high priority for Springfield leaders for decades, said Mayor Christine Lundberg. “It has scenic and recreational value for our community, and it’s an important water resource that’s supported agriculture, wood products, tourism activity and our environment,” she said.
Working closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the city of Springfield began restoration of the millrace in 2009 by creating a new inlet at Clearwater Park. This was followed by re-creating the millrace with a meandering channel, removal of the mill pond and dam and planting of native trees and shrubs.
The city also built the new stormwater facility, located at South Fifth Street, and the start of the new path. The stormwater facility is engineered to clean rainfall runoff from city streets before the water flows into the millrace.
The Mill Race Path has been a collaborative project among the members of TEAM Springfield, which comprises Willamalane Park and Recreation District, the city of Springfield, Springfield Public Schools and Springfield Utility Board.
Sue Rieke-Smith, superintendent of Springfield Public Schools, says the construction of the path behind Agnes Stewart Middle School has provided educational opportunities for local youth.
“[The staff] realized this was a great opportunity to have our students engage with them,” Rieke-Smith said, noting that students were able to watch science and technology in action as engineers designed and built the path. “It provided our students with an opportunity to observe work that can be done in both an ecologically sensitive area, but in an ecologically sustainable way.”
SUB cleared the way for path construction on a portion of its property near the millrace bridge and installed a water line between 28th and Booth-Kelly, laying the foundation for that section of the path.