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Group aims to coordinate neighborhood sustainability

Local volunteers are working to combine and enhance the conservation efforts of residents in one Ashland neighborhood this summer.

Part of a campaign by the nonprofit national organization Grand Aspirations, the Inspire Ashland team is finishing up a survey of the 500-home neighborhood to identify what steps its residents are taking toward sustainability and minimizing their environmental impact.

"It ranges from backyard gardens, to rain drip systems "… and carpooling," said Meryl Six, the Ashland team leader. "A lot of what we are trying to do is gauge the consciousness of the neighborhood."

Six, a 23-year-old senior environmental studies major at Southern Oregon University, volunteered to lead the Ashland program this summer for its inaugural year. It's part of Grand Aspirations' national movement dubbed Summer of Solutions, where teams in communities around the U.S., including Portland, Corvallis and Eugene, are engaging in similar projects.

The team is asking whether participants would be willing to meet with their neighbors on how their existing sustainability projects and environmentally conscious efforts can be brought together.

The current neighborhood being surveyed in Ashland lies inside of the boundary created by Mountain Avenue and East Main, Sherman and Ashland streets.

"Pretty much we're just having an organic conversation and talking as neighbors "… we are not asking them for anything," said Six. "We ask them, 'What do you want to see right now in your neighborhood?' and 'What do you imagine for the future?' "

In addition to its neighborhood project, the Ashland team is about to begin work on a new community garden at Billings Farm, outside of Ashland. Although paperwork for the project needs to be finalized, landowners agreed to set aside one acre of farmable land for the garden, Six said. The idea is to give the community's homeless residents and low-income families the first chance to fill the plot, she said.

Six said the Ashland group, which comprises about 20 "mostly young" people, is working with $1,000 in grant money by Grand Aspirations. Less than $100 of that money has been spent so far by the Ashland team, Six said, and she is excited to see how the remaining money can be put to use.

"Our goal is to foster collaboration between the existing efforts within the community and see what we can get accomplished," Six said. "We are going to be a positive force in our community for sustainability, and conserving our world for the next generation."

Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.