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Kids love a cool down on a hot afternoon in Ashland Creek at Lithia Park in Ashland. (Daily Tidings file photo)

Public tells 100-year planners what it likes about Lithia Park

What is the quintessential experience of Lithia Park? That’s the question posed to a couple dozen town folk gathered Tuesday to kick off a series of confabs aimed at shaping a master plan for the next 100 years.

The answers were obvious — get in nature, go for a walk, interact with the creek, enjoy seasonal changes, get some quiet space away from most people — fulfilling the purpose of the exercise: to enshrine these simple but priceless experiences in the hearts of present and future planners, so they endure.

Consultants MIG of Portland are doing “design week,” a big series of listening sessions where they integrate town opinions and visions as part of an 18-month process that started last December and will cost the city Parks and Recreation Commission $230,000.

In addition to finding out what people love about this “very complex park,” MIG’s job is to figure out what to do with roads, buildings, historical elements, parking, pedestrians, flood plains and infrastructure — all without impinging on its magical, natural feel, said Project Manager Laurie Matthews.

She asked people what is the “heart” of Lithia Park for them. Answers included: Walking, running, standing. The canopy of trees. “Places that create memories.” Solitude. Special times with friends and family. Fall colors. “Secret spots” only you go to. And, in almost every mention, a love of Ashland Creek. “Without the creek, it’s not a park,” said one.

From its online surveys, MIG learned this is no fair-weather park. Asked to name the season they like to visit it, 676 said summer, 602 like fall, 483 named winter and 676 said spring. Asked to choose from a bunch of pretty photos, most people said they “resonate” with the creek meandering under bridges or lounging at a duck pond.

Entry to the park is gained at virtually every spot you can use to stroll in. The most intense use, as might be expected, is from the Plaza through the lower duck pond and playground to the bandshell, with the rest of the park being held dear to many hearts for its solitude.

The consultants leaped into risky territory when they opened the planning session, asking what people want to change in the park. Hands flew up and suggestions flowed about what to do now, not over the next century: Overhanging branches block views. Trash cans need to be bear-proof. The Japanese Garden needs to be “made beautiful again.” No more concrete. The colorful park history needs to be posted publicly. Get the Abe Lincoln statue back. Clean the “filthy” duck ponds. Get swans back. Make the park more friendly to joggers. Maybe think about allowing dog walkers.

The dog idea was greeted with groans. Parks & Recreation Director Michael Black announced they just ordered 30 bear-proof cans. The study will look at ways to connect the two duck ponds with the creek, so they get a constant rinse of fresh water.

Lauren Smitt, a MIG principal stressed they are not here to redesign the park but to enhance and preserve the treasure that it already is. Another principal, Dennis Meyer, said, “We’re trying to come up with key goals for a very specific master plan that are universally accepted and will keep it staying alive and vital.

“Landscape is going to change over time, no matter what you do, but we’re taking the present assets of the park and the values of the community and will build on those.”

The remaining input sessions are:

• Thursday, June 14, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. — The public may offer input on the Master Plan and join the Design Team in discussion; Ashland Community Center, 59 Winburn Way.

• Thursday, June 14, 7 to 9 p.m. — public workshop, for input on the Master Plan, Ashland Community Center, 59 Winburn Way.

• Friday, June 15, 9 to 11 a.m. — APRC Lithia Park Master Plan Committee Meeting, also open to the public; Community Development Building in the Siskiyou Room, 51 Winburn Way.

To comment on the Lithia Park Master Plan, you can also email ParksInfo@ashland.or.us or call 541-488-5340. More info is online at ashland.or.us/LithiaParkMasterPlan. You can follow the project on social media using the hashtags: #lithiaparkmasterplan, #lithiaparknext100years and #lithiapark, and on Facebook at Facebook.com/AshlandParksandRec.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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