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Ashland group wants parcel kept as park

ASHLAND - Trails and woodlands advocates hope to convince the city to keep a parcel of hillside land that could become the center of a 15-acre park.

City officials have talked about selling a 2.5-acre parcel at the top of Strawberry Lane to help finance their $734,000 share of a $1.08-million local improvement district that will pave streets in the area.

Ashland Woodlands & Trails Association, a recently formed group, hopes to purchase another 2.5 acres adjacent to the city's 2.5-acre site and across from 10 acres already dedicated for parks and open space. The area provides access to trails for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians, and dark spots for astronomy buffs.

"It's quite an extraordinary piece of property. It could tie all the acres together," said Michael Donovan, an association member and former city councilman. "Our concern is to at least let the council know there is some community feeling about that property."

Donovan, Granite Street resident Robert McLellan and Chris Hearn, a member of the Ashland Planning Commission, are seeking nonprofit status for the organization. They plan to meet in the next two weeks with a branch of the National Parks Service that facilitates public/private land ownership arrangements. The group hopes to secure grant money and private donations to create trails and open space surrounding the city.

Jacksonville's Woodlands Association, which has acquired land and established a six-mile trail system, has served as an inspiration to the Ashland group.

"Ironically, the city's plan to sell the property has given momentum to the group," said Donovan. "(The city has) purchased so much hillside land. It's great we've protected the view shed, but there's little open space."

McLellan and Donovan said the city might consider selling other property to finance the LID. They named an 840-acre site the city owns northeast of Interstate 5 that was purchased for the spraying of wastewater effluent. The city later dropped that plan.

Sale of the 2.5 acres will require City Council approval. A council study session on the Strawberry Lane LID is scheduled for July 18.

"(Any sale) will go through a public process. It was one idea," said Mayor Alan DeBoer. "There's park land across the street from it."

Both parcels were acquired in the late 1970s in a land swap linked to construction of a water tower in the area. Then-City Administrator Brian Almquist planned to sell the 2.5-acre parcel later, according to Jim Olson of the city's Public Works Department.

A LID in the area would allow development of 21 half-acre home sites in the plateau area. It would pave parts of Strawberry Lane, Alnutt Street, Scenic Drive and Westwood Street. Developers would pay $140,000 and residents in the area $202,000 toward the LID.

Figures presented to Ashland's budget committee this year showed a total of $692,000 available for the LID from system development charges, street and storm drain fees and Parks Department funds.

Parks and open space land has been acquired with money raised by the city's meal tax. But recent acquisitions, including the $650,000 purchase of land along Ashland Creek this month, leave little opportunity for purchases in the near future.

Reach Ashland bureau reporter Tony Boom at 482-4651, or e-mail