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Park Views: Lithia Park Master Plan moves forward

An update of the Lithia Park Master Plan is in progress. Portland firm MIG, Inc. has teamed with local professionals, including KenCairn Landscaping of Ashland, to update the 100-year-old existing master plan that included donkey rides, car camping and a zoo, among other outdated features.

The new plan’s goal will be to guide the park as it evolves over the next 100 years with emphasis on maintaining the historic natural and human-made features of the park (MIG’s project manager, Laurie Mathews, is a landscape architect who specializes in historic landscapes), improving accessibility within the park, improving safety of multi-modal traffic, preserving and enhancing Ashland Creek and its adjacent riparian area, protecting the overall natural environment, preserving and, where necessary, replacing the tree canopy, and bringing the buildings and other designed elements up to the standards of the 21st century. In some cases, such as the storage area across from the Park Administration offices, this may mean removing structures that are in the riparian zone.

The reasons for master planning for Lithia Park are compelling. Many of the magnificent trees in the park are aging and stressed by a changing environment. For these and other reasons, many park trees are in decline. The tree canopy of the east slope of the park has recently been negatively altered by die-back, possibly due to global warming. A tree plan that focuses on trees that can survive and thrive in a changing environment is essential.

Erosion on the eastern slopes and along Ashland Creek has damaged the natural environment. Winburn Way has speeding cars and bicyclists competing with pedestrians, often with no sidewalk for refuge. Some restrooms are in out-of-the-way locations, encouraging vandalism and reducing their utility.

Year-round park usage continues to climb, placing pressure on all systems and increasing demands for more and better services and facilities, while park revenues have grown at a slower pace. More efficient use of limited resources, something the master plan can point to, would be welcomed by park users and taxpayers alike.

Since the planning process commenced, hundreds of citizens have provided comments, concerns, and suggestions related to the Master Plan update. Suggestions have included: increased ADA access, more parking, ecological preservation, allowing dogs in the park, increase in the number of areas available for events, a bicycle plan (including how to manage mountain bikes) and preservation of historic structures. A number of people took the time to attend meetings in order to urge all involved to not change what they love about Lithia Park, and Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission staff and commissioners strongly support that sentiment.

A Lithia Park feature that was little-mentioned during public input was the Perozzi Fountain. It has fallen into disrepair, estimates for restoration are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and this not the first time expensive repairs have been necessary. The master planning process, including public input, will offer advice as to whether this historic feature of the park should be preserved and/or maintained.

Design Week took place June 12-15 and focused on the vision and concept development for the Lithia Park Master Plan with formal and informal public input opportunities. If you would like to review the concepts and provide additional feedback, please visit bit.ly/LithiaParkConcepts. General info about the Lithia Park Master Plan can be found at ashland.or.us/LithiaParkMasterPlan.

The planning process for a renovation of the Japanese Garden has been touched on during Design Week and at other points during the master planning for Lithia Park, and next month it is going to have its own public participation process. Two public meetings are planned to gather feedback from the community, to be held Aug. 1 at the Ashland Senior Center and Aug. 9 at the Ashland Community Center, from 6 to 8 p.m. both days.

The Lithia Park Master Plan Subcommittee will meet at 2 p.m. Aug.9 at the Lithia Park Administrative Office. Public input will be taken there as well. Additional meetings with opportunities for public participation are planned for the fall.

As it is the heart and soul of Ashland for many, we all have a stake in protecting and in some cases enhancing what we love about Lithia Park. We welcome and encourage your suggestions and ideas during this important planning process period.

Rick Landt and Matt Miller are Ashland Parks & Recreation Commission commissioners. Park Views appears monthly.

File photoAshland Creek is among the many attractions in Lithia Park.