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Residents, businesses adopt parks to avoid pesticide use

ASHLAND — Residents and employees of local businesses have adopted six Ashland parks plus Lithia Park's Japanese Garden as part of an expanding effort to keep the city's park system largely free of chemical pesticides.

Lori Ainsworth, volunteer and event coordinator for the Ashland Parks and Recreation Department, is hoping even more people will step forward to adopt parks or other sections of Lithia Park.

Volunteers commit to working in their adopted park at least four times per year, taking on tasks such as pulling weeds, laying down mulch and fighting invasive plants such as blackberry brambles.

"It's the fine weeding and picking and invasive species removal that our parks staff really need," Ainsworth said. "Every park, open space and field could definitely stand some help four times a year."

She said helpers are needed at Hunter Park, Garfield Park, natural areas at North Mountain Park, sections of the city-owned Oak Knoll Public Golf Course and areas in Lithia Park, such as its rhododendron garden.

While volunteers have worked in Ashland's park system for years, the Parks Department started a push to recruit even more volunteers after deciding earlier this year to forgo most chemical herbicides, insecticides and fungicides.

When parks workers do apply pesticides, they now rely mostly on organic products that use natural ingredients such as citrus extract.

Volunteers have logged 7,312 hours of work in Ashland parks so far this year — a jump from 4,946 hours in 2010, according to parks figures.

Most of the volunteers who have adopted Ashland parks are taking a break right now because of the frozen ground and wintery weather.

A crew of volunteers from the Albertsons grocery store in Ashland expects to get back out in February or March after spending a November day pulling weeds and cutting blackberries along the Calle Guanajuato, said store director Paige Vaughan.

Calle Guanajuato, located behind businesses on the downtown Ashland Plaza, follows Ashland Creek. It has a paved sidewalk on one side of the creek and a more natural area with trees, plants, a wood-chip walking trail and stairs on the opposite side.

The Albertsons crew worked despite cold weather and rain, Ainsworth said.

"We have volunteer shirts that we wear for our volunteer activities," Vaughan said. "When we were working, we had a lot of people comment and ask what was going on. It was neat to say, 'We're from Albertsons and we adopted this park.' A lot of people were like, 'Wow! Thank you.' "

Vaughan said she would recommend to other businesses that they adopt Ashland parks. "It's a great way to build teamwork and cohesion. It's nice to get together outside of work, and it's great to be involved in the community," she said.

Wells Fargo bank recently adopted Railroad Park, while the Soroptimists service club has helped with Garden Way park for years, Ainsworth said.

The Siskiyou School has adopted Clay Street Park, and a neighborhood group called "Friends of Scenic Park" has adopted their namesake park.

Local couple Richard Anderson and Alison Date adopted Lithia Park's Japanese Garden.

Some groups, such as a local Ultimate Frisbee club and the I Heart Ashland faith-based service group, haven't formally adopted parks, but they have helped out at places such as North Mountain Park, Ainsworth said.

At Ashland's Dog Park, Louise Shawkat and her beagle, Harry, have adopted the town's off-leash romping ground. From July through October, Shawkat logged 119 hours of work at the park, Ainsworth said.

Shawkat said she has concentrated on pulling weeds, thinning trees and bushes and laying down cardboard topped with mulch to discourage weed growth.

A recent transplant from Kentucky, Shawkat said volunteering at the park is a good way to meet other people and give back to the community.

"There's just something very therapeutic about pulling weeds and putting down mulch," she said.

For information on volunteering or adopting a park, call Ainsworth at 541-552-2264.