Reclaiming the pond

Most days, a lone snowy egret perches on a log, while blue herons and merganser ducks glide in and out of little-known Ashland Pond, a glassy body of water tucked away in the fir, ash and cottonwood forest beside Ashland Creek.

Given to the city of Ashland 40 years ago by the developers of the Quiet Village subdivision, the pond had become overgrown, mostly with invasive blackberries, until pupils of nearby Helman Elementary School and their teacher, Mia Driscoll, started marching there for lessons in nature and wildlife — and decided to dedicate themselves to its restoration.

Welcoming the chance to get outside and learn about nature in the rough, Helman kindergartners have planted scads of native trees and bushes — and Driscoll has recruited the energies of the city Parks and Recreation Department, Lomakatsi Restoration and many volunteers in clearing invasive brush and trees.

It's working. In only three years, the once overgrown, 12-acre spot is taking on an open, park-like look, whose quarter-mile, pond-side trail is regularly visited by joggers, bird-watchers, nature photographers and people wanting to walk dogs and find a moment's peace in the middle of an urban environment.

City and Lomakatsi crews have sawed down blackberries on both sides of Ashland Creek, and Eagle Scouts have created a winding, quarter-mile trail off the Bear Creek Greenway, so you can stroll down to parts of Ashland Creek not normally open to the public.

The pond is accessible off the foot of Glendower Street — and the trail off the Greenway can be reached only by parking at the city Dog Park and walking down to the bike path.

Crews are burning the hardy blackberry vines to keep them from growing back, covering the area with cardboard and mulch, planting native trees and protecting the trees — new and old — with beaver-proof screen.

The pond was dug out and enclosed by a dike in the early 1970s by developers who needed dirt for their project, said Jeff McFarland of the city Parks and Recreation crew. It draws water via a side channel from Ashland Creek, with water draining back into the creek at the other end of the pond. Ashland Creek joins Bear Creek right after the pond.

The pond, the biggest one in the city of Ashland, emptied four years ago when the old drain pipes collapsed, so the city joined the project and restored the drainage. Wildlife, including salmon, otter and beaver, began returning in droves, said McFarland.

As native trees grow and shade the riparian zone, he said, it will become more difficult for blackberries to grow back.

"It was a big mess when we started," said Driscoll, noting that the Helman PTA has been donating about $1,000 a year to its restoration. "Now, the kids are finding a connection with the earth and identify with the trees they've planted. The pond is serving the whole school all through the year."

The Bear Creek Watershed Council has been the main funding source, with $42,600 of lottery money via the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, said council coordinator Frances Oyung. The big challenge now is funding ongoing maintenance, Oyung said.

"From the watershed point of view, this riparian restoration project improves water quality and salmon habitat, improves shade (on the creek), lowers stream temperature and adds native vegetation to banks, which filters water much better than blackberries," Oyung said.

The in-kind matches from the city, Lomakatsi and Helman are each in the $5,000 to $7,000 range, she said.

About $10,000 a year in community donations would fund upkeep, said Niki DelPizzo of Lomakatsi.

The budding pond and park are becoming a rich educational resource, said Helman kindergarten teacher Tia McLean, as she led pupils in planting incense cedars Tuesday.

"It's a connection to community and a sense of place and stewardship of the earth," said McLean. "The kids are coming back, year after year, and seeing the trees grow bigger, as they, themselves do — and it's hands-on learning that they get to experience through the changing seasons, instead of just reading about it in the classroom."

Helman parents come along on field trips to the pond, sharing in the teaching duties. Parent Stacy Poole noted, "It's so rich to be able to walk from school to my local pond and see Aimee (her daughter) planting trees. By the time they're in sixth grade, they'll see the changes and feel they are part of it. It's so important, getting back to the simple things of life."

Those wishing to join community volunteers in providing labor may contact Parks & Recreation Department volunteer coordinator Lori Ainsworth at 541-552-2264.

Volunteers are invited to an Arbor Day event Saturday, April 30, at the Ashland Pond to fertilize, mulch and plant trees and shrubs, says DelPizzo. Funding donors may reach her at 541-488-0208 or

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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