Mt. Ashland Ski Area proposes summer adventure center

Long after snowboarders and skiers have put away their gear, Mt. Ashland Ski Area officials want people to return to the mountain and fly down the slopes on a zip line.

The Mt. Ashland Association, which runs the nonprofit ski area, has proposed a Mt. Ashland Outdoor Adventure Center that could include the zip line, plus bungee trampoline jumping, a portable rock-climbing wall, a disc golf course and other summer activities.

"We look forward to providing people with exciting and healthy things to do in the summer," said Ski Area General Manager Hiram Towle.

The zip line would run from near the top of the Sonnet beginners' hill to a stand of trees near the Juliet run — making it longer in distance than the beginner's slope.

The U.S. Forest Service is seeking comments about the proposal through May 29. An interdisciplinary team will review the public comments to see what issues should be examined more closely. That will determine what level of environmental analysis needs to be done, said Brian Long, recreation manager for the Siskiyou Mountains and Wild River Ranger Districts.

"It would all be inside the boundary of the ski area by the lodge," said Long, noting the lodge area already sees heavy use.

"Their goal is to identify activities with a minimal impact on the environment that would not have a high cost to them," he said of the Mt. Ashland Association.

Towle said buying the equipment for the adventure center would cost approximately $130,000.

Tentative ticket prices for a pass to all center activities could be $29 for kids and $39 for adults. Ski area officials hope to have enough activities that people could spend hours at the center. The ski area would offer food and beverage service, Towle said.

The Mt. Ashland Association submitted a $50,000 request for a city of Ashland Economic Development, Cultural, Tourism and Sustainability Grant, but was turned down in April by a citizens budget subcommittee that makes grant recommendations.

Ashland City Councilor Pam Marsh, who was on the subcommittee, said members were worried the Mt. Ashland Association still has to go through the Forest Service approval process.

"We have every reason to believe they'll be granted approval, but it seemed premature to be giving them money," she said. "We'll have another grant application process next year, and if things are moving forward, we expect they will come back."

The full Ashland Citizens' Budget Committee will decide on grant allotments on Wednesday, May 21.

The city has $225,122 in grants to distribute, with 33 applicants vying for the money. The applicants submitted $600,000 in funding requests, far more than the amount available, according to city documents.

Towle said it was disappointing to have the summer adventure center grant request turned down. The Mt. Ashland Association needs to raise money before it can install equipment, which it would like to do in time to open the adventure center next summer.

"We were looking forward to getting some money, but we respect the decision," Towle said. "A lot of great organizations were competing for grants. The discussion was good, and good points were raised."

Marsh said several of the budget subcommittee members appreciated the Mt. Ashland Association's proactive approach.

"Many of us are very glad they are thinking creatively about how to make the area work in this time of great environmental transition," she said.

Some believe climate change is contributing to recent years of low snowpack in the region's mountains. Whether recent weather can be attributed to climate change, scientists predict more precipitation will fall as rain and less snow will accumulate in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest dubecause of global warming.

After being closed for the whole season two winters ago and operating 38 days this past winter beacuse of low snowpack, the Mt. Ashland Association wants to diversify with more summer activities. The ski area already hosts some summer events, such as weddings.

Even during years of plentiful snow, the ski area typically runs from mid-December into April.

"We have this beautiful place we only use four months a year," Towle said.

Long said when the Rogue Valley is sweltering in 100-degree heat, temperatures are comfortable up on the mountain, making it ideal for summer activities.

"I think it's a great idea to take advantage of year-round opportunities up there," Long said. "A lot of other ski areas across the West are having to do this. It's good to bring the public up to enjoy their public lands."

Towle said concentrating the activities on soils that have already been impacted by users would help protect the environment. He said there is potential for people to wear trails on the slopes as they use the disc golf course, which would be more spread out. However, workers could move the disc golf "holes" — which are baskets with chains perched on poles — to various locations to keep trails from being worn in the ground.

For more information about the proposal, call Long at 541-899-3800.

Comments can be mailed to Siskiyou Mountains Ranger District, 6941 Upper Applegate Road, Jacksonville, OR 97530, hand-delivered to that address between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, faxed to 541-899-3888 or emailed to comments-pacificnorthwest-rogueriver-siskiyoumountains@fs.fed.us.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

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