Parks Department adds volunteer coordinator

Lori Ainsworth has her work cut out for her in a town where volunteers flock to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland Independent Film Festival and other popular nonprofit groups.

"When people think about volunteering in Ashland — and I know we have a lot of competition with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival — I want them to think about parks," said Ainsworth, the Ashland Parks & Recreation Department's new volunteer coordinator.

OSF alone has 600 volunteers, while AIFF has more than 300, according to those groups' websites.

Ainsworth, who started her new job on Nov. 1 after working for a Medford social services nonprofit for the past decade, said the Ashland parks system does have many dedicated volunteers. But their efforts have been mainly concentrated at North Mountain Park, which has a Nature Center and volunteer-tended display gardens, and the Ashland Senior Center next to Hunter Park.

Ainsworth hopes to put volunteers to work in a variety of parks and possibly other city-owned properties, such as the Oak Knoll Golf Course, the Daniel Meyer Pool and the Rotary Centennial Ice Rink.

"The Parks Department runs a huge amount of facilities. Volunteers are needed in a lot of areas," she said.

Ainsworth worked with volunteers in her past job, and has been a volunteer herself.

"You want to make the volunteer feel special," she said. "They are volunteering their time, and they don't have to. You want to make it a special experience for them."

Ainsworth plans to reach out to local service clubs, schools, Ashland's active retirees and semi-retirees, and others.

To graduate, Ashland High School students need to do a senior project and log 100 hours of community service during their high school years.

Ainsworth plans to make earning those community service hours easier by hosting three-hour Saturday work parties. Those will likely kick off in the spring, with students and adults welcome.

Parks Department staff members previously helped students on senior projects on an individual basis.

This is the first time the department has had a volunteer coordinator.

The Parks and Recreation Commission set aside $80,000 this fiscal year to cover the costs of a volunteer coordinator. Part of the impetus was a decision to work on reducing the use of pesticides in city parks.

The Parks Commission hopes volunteers can help control the weeds that may spring up with less herbicide use.

"We're going to need a lot of maintenance help to keep our parks as beautiful and safe as they are now," Ainsworth said.

Parks Director Don Robertson said there are costs associated with using volunteers.

"There is a common misconception that volunteers are free. But there is a cost for equipping volunteers, keeping them safe, maintaining volunteers and even vetting the backgrounds of some volunteers for some positions," he said.

Over time, Robertson said having an efficient, organized volunteer system could help the department control costs.

"We're not looking to replace paid staff members. This will supplement the paid staff. We use volunteers to stretch the labor we have," he said.

People who are interested in volunteering can contact Ainsworth at 541-552-2264 or

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or

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