Residents, tourists cope with summer's smoke

This summer's mix of smoky and clear days seems to be having relatively little impact on tourists and residents in Ashland.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival's outdoor Elizabethan Stage is still attracting patrons. OSF also has two indoor venues, the Angus Bowmer Theatre and The New Theatre.

"We've had a few but not many folks on certain smoky nights ask if they could switch from the outdoor theater to an indoor theater. Provided we have tickets to the indoor theaters, we're happy to do it," said OSF Media Relations Associate Eddie Wallace.

He said OSF is very accommodating about such situations and will also exchange tickets for different times if needed.

So far, the triple threat of unpredictably smoky skies, a slowing economy and high gas prices doesn't appear to be affecting attendance at OSF.

"We're not seeing an impact. To date, we're tracking even with last year," Wallace said.

Two plays by William Shakespeare, "The Comedy of Errors" and "Othello," were at 100 percent capacity last week on the Elizabethan Stage. Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" was at 90 percent capacity in the outdoor theater. OSF hit those marks despite smoke-filled skies on Friday, when "Othello" was being performed. Skies had cleared on Saturday, when "Our Town" was on stage.

Wallace said advance ticket sales for the next two months are down compared to last year, but OSF hopes to match 2007's sales by selling another 7,000 tickets before the outdoor theater closes on Oct. 12 and the indoor theaters close on Nov. 2.

Greenleaf Restaurant has the largest amount of outdoor seating along the Calle Guanajuato, the pedestrian walkway between Ashland Creek and downtown plaza businesses. The restaurant seats customers at tables on the calle as well as upstairs in its building.

Traci White, manager for Greenleaf, said customers comment about the smoke on hazy days. But as long as it's warm, they ask to sit outside. She said the clear days this week have been perfect.

"It's not too hot. It's not too cool &

and obviously, there's no smoke," White said.

Parks department employees have heard complaints about smoke this summer, but there has still been a steady stream of visitors stopping in at the department's office in Lithia Park, said Recreation Superintendent Rachel Teige.

Down at the Ashland Senior Center on Homes Avenue, volunteer Donna Styers said she has heard conversations about smoke. She said she hasn't limited her own activities, though.

Smoke has little impact on Senior Center activities such as lunch or bi-weekly T'ai Chi classes. Those are held indoors anyway because some senior citizens have allergies or other health conditions, Styers said.

She said the smoke is impacting some people at their homes, though.

"I live in the Wingspread mobile home park. I know there are some people there who are bothered," Styers said.

Some Ashland residents with asthma have reported that they are limiting outdoor activities like walking on smoke-filled days, but others with asthma report they have not changed their activities this summer because of smoke.

For updates on air quality and smoke conditions, visit the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Web site /aqi/index.aspx. The agency's Air Quality Index shows whether air pollution levels are good, moderate, unhealthy for sensitive groups or unhealthy for all groups. Medford is the closest city to Ashland that is monitored for the Web site.

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or To post a comment, visit .

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