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Top 10 stories in Ashland for 2011

The year in Ashland closed on a tragic note that left many residents feeling uneasy after 23-year-old David Michael Grubbs was murdered along the Central Ashland Bike Path.

But 2011 also saw residents come together to avert economic disaster when a support beam cracked in June in an Oregon Shakespeare Festival theater, leading to the closure of the 600-seat space during the busy summer tourist season.

All told, 2011 was a mixed year that saw a number of notable headlines. Newspaper staff members identified these stories as the top 10 in Ashland for the year.

1. After conducting hundreds of interviews and searching for evidence, police are still investigating the Nov. 19 near-decapitation of Grubbs, a talented musician who worked at Shop'n Kart. The Ashland City Council will consider safety improvements, such as lighting the bike path, in the coming year.

2. The cracked OSF beam could have severely damaged the festival's season and tourism revenues for the whole town, but OSF employees and residents found alternate venues to stage displaced plays — reducing the economic damage.

3. Homeless people and their advocates protested in support of more rights and services for the homeless, while others said aggressive panhandlers are hurting Ashland. The city government took some steps, including installing a downtown portable toilet, authorizing donation boxes and continuing its support of an overnight emergency shelter that opens when temperatures drop.

4. The U.S. Forest Service approved the expansion of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area in May. Supporters and opponents of the expansion expect the agency to return to court any day now to ask for an injunction to be lifted that has blocked on-the-ground work. An environmental group has vowed to file a new lawsuit.

5. Occupy Ashland protesters converged on the downtown Plaza last fall, showing solidarity with an Occupy Wall Street movement that spread across the nation. Local protesters have since shifted gears from on-the-street activism to working on local issues such as homelessness.

6. Ashland Parks and Recreation Department receptionist Becky Bianco was arrested in January for allegedly stealing $43,390 in park funds. Her next scheduled court appearance is set for Jan. 9. A Public Works Department worker was accused of stealing a city ladder in June, following accusations in late 2010 that two parks workers had stolen equipment and supplies.

The parks department generated headlines again when it switched to organic pesticides, attracting a surge of new volunteers to help control pests.

7. Transient Richard "Tricky" Nolan Currier was sentenced to nearly a year in jail after he admitted he bought whiskey for Ashland teen Samuel Hayes, who was found dead in Ashland Creek in June with a blood alcohol level of .27. Currier had a record of providing alcohol to minors.

8. City Council approved a controversial plan to put North Main Street on a "road diet" where it enters town, reducing the number of car lanes to create more room for bicyclists and pedestrians. Councilors voted to realign a dangerous intersection in the area first, then try out the road diet in 2012.

9. A couple proposed building a three-level, 189-seat restaurant on Winburn Way near Lithia Park and the seasonal ice rink, but abandoned the project after City Council imposed $250,000 in parking impact fees. Many residents said the restaurant would have been too large for the area, which already experiences summer parking problems.

10. The Ashland Chamber of Commerce tried to cancel the town's traditional Halloween parade, saying it had been hijacked by adults in recent years. Many residents panned plans for a kid-friendly street fair. Chamber officials listened to community members and reinstated the parade.

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.