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Here's how we maintain city open spaces

We want to highlight the coordinated efforts and hard work put forth by the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission employees who maintain Ashland’s “open space” properties.

But first, recognize that here in Southern Oregon we live in the middle of beautiful open spaces. Our open space characteristics are exemplified by the number of undeveloped acres of land with numerous trails that we maintain within our city boundaries. APRC staff and the board of commissioners recently devoted a working study session to address our commitment to the responsible maintenance of the parks and open space within our parks system.

APRC is responsible for the maintenance of nearly 600 acres of open space and an additional 200-plus acres of designated park space that features areas of natural creeks, trails and other features that set them apart from manicured park spaces.

Open space areas include the Acid Castles, parts of Ashland Creek Park, Siskiyou Mountain Park, Hald-Strawberry, Riverwalk and parts the Bear Creek Greenway, as well as the recent acquisition of the Mace property, which joins Riverwalk and is now open to the public with natural trails and access to over 10 acres of open space along Bear Creek.

In order to maintain the open space, APRC has an Open Space, Trails and Forestry Division that is tasked with year-round maintenance. That division is staffed with four full-time employees led by Jason Minica. The level of maintenance is dictated by several factors, including how the property is used; the terrain of the property; its proximity to residential neighborhoods/structures; natural resources present at the property, including creeks, drainages, native vegetation, etc.; and the requirements of the city, county, state and federal governments.

The requirements that typically have the most impact on maintenance are related to the use of the property and any mandated requirements of the city of Ashland. In September the Almeda fire started in an open space area and damaged more than 10 acres of APRC property before heading north with devastating results to our neighboring towns of Talent and Phoenix and along the Bear Creek Greenway. Since then, we have experienced a constant appeal from the public to ensure that our open space maintenance meets city requirements. In fact, the properties we maintain do meet these requirements. This has led some people to question whether the requirements that Ashland has on the books are adequate to protect the public from wildfire.

Current APRC maintenance practices are as follows:

  • Properties that are an acre or less, the entire property is mowed if possible, based on terrain (Some larger properties, such as the undeveloped East Main Park, are mowed in their entirety.).
  • Properties larger than an acre require a 15-foot barrier be mowed around the perimeter (APRC strives to mow a 30-foot barrier when possible, and adjacent property owners are required to have a 15-foot fire mitigation buffer as well.).
  • Restrictions during fire season restrict what kind of activities and equipment can be used.
  • Maintenance activities are mainly undertaken by APRC staff with the assistance of Jackson County Community Justice crews.
  • Mechanical equipment cannot be used in riparian zones within 50 feet of the high-water mark.
  • Bird nesting season limits when maintenance activities can take place in riparian areas.
  • Maintenance activities on larger and more forested properties include weed abatement such as scotch broom removal and thinning activities that include piling and burning thinned vegetation.
  • By design, APRC maintenance practices often exceed what is required. We want to be good neighbors.
  • APRC staff relies on the community to relay some issues to staff and will address the issues as they arise.

Recently APRC used a $25,000 grant from Avista to thin, pile and burn excess fuel loads on the upper east Lithia hillside. APRC employees removed 3-5 acres of blackberries with heavy equipment on the Riverwalk/Mace property. The East Main Park property was mowed, blackberries removed, TID ditch repaired and fuel hazards reduced. On the Cottle property, at the request of neighbors, previously planted pine trees were thinned and blackberries were removed.

We have and will continue to do selective burning on properties where brush and downed trees have been piled in an effort to reduce summertime fire danger within Ashland city limits.

While we are not prepared to argue whether all current requirements are adequate, we can assure our citizens that we work hand in hand with city, county, state and federal agencies to ensure that we are following approved guidelines and that we meet the expectations of the public to reduce fire danger on the lands that we maintain.

Please responsibly enjoy Ashland’s numerous parks and open spaces and thank an APRC employee for the great work they do.

Mike Gardiner and Rick Landt are APRC commissioners.