This easy three-mile hike on the edge of Ashland is great for days when the crowds in Lithia Park just won't let up.
Only a 10-minute walk from downtown Ashland, signs at the Hearts Nature Trail warn of black bear and cougar sightings, but don't count on it. You are, however, likely to encounter deer that, unlike those lower in the park, scurry from humans instead of approaching them. This hike offers a little bit of mystery, too, including water that runs uphill.
Park near the intersection of Granite Street and Winburn Way in Ashland. The well-marked trailhead is 300 feet up a private driveway in the 300 block of Granite Street. Please be respectful of the property owners by staying on the marked trail and follow posted regulations. The path starts at a steep pace along a deep draw.
A diversity of native, fire-resistant tree species are spread out on the surrounding property, encouraging the health of grasses, undergrowth and sun-loving hardwoods. Standing and fallen dead wood has been left to serve as wildlife habitat and soil builder. This demonstrates a wise trend in land stewardship to mimic ecological processes prevalent before the suppression of fire cycles.
The trail, made possible by an agreement between the city of Ashland and adjacent landowners, was thoughtfully built. Instead of just cutting tread and clearing a path, they installed natural-looking stairs and matting to reduce erosion.
There also are a number of benches along the ascent, great places to catch your breath and views of the Bear Creek Valley, Ashland Watershed and Lithia Park.
After about a quarter mile, the trail runs into the Talent Irrigation Ditch (TID) corridor. Head south (left) and against the flow of the water. This section of the hike is terminal, but well worth adding to the loop. The ditch winds around gullies that are seemingly dry, at least in October. With lush growth surrounding its banks even in late summer, this section of the TID is more of an enchanting lagoon than roadside hole in the ground.
After passing an old, dangerous-looking bridge, the ditch continues winding before gushing from a subterranean pipe. The trail continues south for about another quarter mile before terminating at the edge of private property. Turn around and take special notice of the grade and flow of the water.
As a testament to early hydro-engineering innovation, the water is actually flowing uphill in many spots. The ditch was part of a network of water diversion features built in the early 20th century to supply irrigation for fruit orchards in the Bear Creek Valley.
Instead of following the Hearts Nature Trail back the way you came, pass it up and continue along the ditch. Even though these slopes are made up of mostly granitic, easily eroded soils, the water seems perfectly clear. You can follow the ditch for quite a ways, but it's most convenient, especially if you want to avoid the crowds and the cars, to follow signs down the Granite Street Trail.
The trail steeply descends past an old homesite and down another draw before reaching a gate which is there to divert deer, not people. Pass the gate and follow the set of stairs back to Granite Street, spitting distance from Ashland Creek and a couple of minutes from the Hearts Nature Trailhead.
"I was eating at Grilla Bites, left out the rear entrance, and started walking up the creek. Then I just kind of stumbled upon it," explained Dan, a hiker I crossed paths with last time I did this hike. He came to Ashland from Mendocino, Calif., for the art, but found himself wandering the surrounding hills.
"I usually stay on the coast, but people kept telling me to go inland, so here I am," he said. "I usually travel in rural areas, so I was happy to find some solitude. I'm from an artsy town, too, but we just don't have stuff like this so close."
With more of us strapped for cash in a seemingly shaky economy, the most enriching and stable assets seem to be public and outside.
Coming up: On Saturday, Oct. 22, the Siskiyou Mountain Club will lead a moderate, 6.2-mile hike along the Wild and Scenic Rogue River to Whisky Creek, where there could be a show of spawning salmon. Carpools leave at 7 a.m. from Ashland and 8 a.m. from Grants Pass. See www.siskiyoumountainclub.org/events for details and sign up.
Freelance writer Gabe Howe lives in Ashland and is founder and chair of the Siskiyou Mountain Club. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.