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The crowd expressed their opinions on topics that were addressed at the public review using flash cards. The only universal agreement of the evening was to improve the health of the Ashland Creek. Photo by Caitiline Fowlkes

Heart of the park is in the eye of the beholder

Near the end of design week for the Lithia Park master plan, Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission members, along with lead consultant M.I.G., reviewed their ideas with the public Thursday evening at the Ashland Community Center.

Michael Black, director of APRC, said the master plan is intended to be implemented over the next 100 years, but will ultimately take place within the next 20-50 years because that far into the future is nearly impossible to predict.

“The reason that we’re going into this is to preserve the park, but we have to understand that as people change and population grows and usage changes in the park, we will have to adapt in some ways,” Black said. “The main thing is to ensure that Lithia Park is here in 100 years and that’s really what’s driving everything.”

The inspiration for the master plan stemmed from Lithia Park’s 100-year anniversary two years ago. Now that it’s been a key focal point in Ashland for 100 years, it’s important to the town to preserve it for the next 100.

APRC brought the consulting team on to help in the planning process. The planning team includes members based out of Portland and the Rogue Valley. Experts in ecology, biology, civil engineers, stream ecologists, landscape architects and park planners were also brought into the loop. After research was conducted, including an online mapping questionnaire for the public, key points were addressed. During the meeting the public was asked about common concerns, including motorized traffic patterns; trails for bicyclists and pedestrians; regenerating healthy habitats; filtering storm water; natural play; and providing more accessibility for all.

“Everything that we addressed was brought up by someone,” Black said. “We’re basically considering everything.”

Black said everyone in the city has some sort of relationship with the park and his goal is to go through the planning process as collaboratively as possible with the public.

Preserving the legacy of the park and adapting for the future is at the heart of every decision, Black said. He estimates just the planning process will take about 18 months.

“What I’m looking forward to is a list of the highest priority of projects, repairs, and whatever it is it ends up being for how to approach all the improvements, or restorations or preservations that need to be done,” Black said.

He said he’d like to reiterate that there’s no so thing as too much input from the public and encourages feedback.

Laurie Matthews, project manager, said for historic parks with longevity like Lithia, it’s vital to look this far into the future.

“It is an icon of landscape architecture and design … it’s one of the best if not the best in the state of Oregon and it’s known far and wide,” Matthews said. “The reason it is so special is because of the unique qualities of the cultural and historical aspects that are built onto some of the natural features.”

Matthews said some unusual data collected from the online questionnaire were that people access the park from all sides, and almost equal representation of people use the park during all seasons, whereas most parks are used seasonally.

“When we asked people what they thought the heart of the park was, there were some concentrations around some of the things that you would think, but I think a lot of people have a personal attachment to what they see as their own little, secret spot,” Matthews said.

Donna Rose, an Ashland resident for 32 years, said it’s very important to her to protect both places for solitude and for gatherings without commercializing the park.

“Depending on my mood, I can go and watch people or watch musicians, or I can walk away from that and have it quieter,” Rose said. “Protecting that and the natural aspects like the creek and all the trees is very important to me.”

Lauren Schmitt, principle at M.I.G., said the topics addressed at the meetings were compiled from a plethora of sources, including the consulting team’s experience with parks around the country, field research and a lot of feedback from the community to determine the future characteristics of the park.

“The design process is iterative, you come back to things and look at prioritization,” Schmitt said. “Are those the issues that we should be addressing? Did we miss anything? Should we be looking at that in another way? Is there another idea?”

For more information on the data collected over the master plan week and to contact APRC to give feedback, visit ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=17543.

Contact Ashland freelance writer Caitlin Fowlkes at Caitlin.fowlkes@gmail.com.

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