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Sustainability in our parks

Daniel Meyer Pool Tuesday morning. [Daily Tidings / Andy Atkinson]

As the American robin returns to the Rogue Valley, the manzanitas start to bloom, and we move from a warm winter into what looks to be another unusually dry summer, it seems appropriate to talk about sustainability.

This column will look at three ways the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission plans to work on sustainability: financial sustainability, heating of Daniel Meyer Memorial Pool, and parks maintenance equipment.

APRC spends a significant and growing share of its budget on park maintenance and fire suppression. Every square inch of lawn managed by APRC is mowed six or more times a year. As the summers get longer and hotter, the number of times we need to mow each season increases. This requires lawnmowers, staff to do the mowing, and money to pay for both.

Approximately 75% of APRC’s operating revenue comes from property tax. Four years ago, the city reduced APRC’s allocation by almost 10%. This year, the city is significantly increasing the administrative fee charged to APRC.

Absent some reprieve, in two years we will have a budget crisis. With a limited budget, fire suppression may become our only task. We hope to sustain current parks and the recreation services, such as the pool, ice skating rink, senior services and golf course (among other things). Financial sustainability will be a significant goal for the next biennium.

APRC maintenance work generates pollution, most importantly greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to worsening wildfires. Greenhouse gas emissions are a global problem, but any solution will require small steps to be taken at the local level. Two such sources are the Daniel Meyer Memorial Pool and our landscaping maintenance equipment.

The Daniel Meyer Memorial Pool is the second-largest source of natural gas emissions of all the city and parks and recreation buildings. The pool has reached its end of life and needs to be replaced. Natural gas could be used to heat the replacement, but that would lock in greenhouse gas emissions for the lifespan of the new equipment, which could be for decades.

APRC is seeking an alternative heating system. We are hoping to use an electric heat pump or geo-thermal energy. Ashland uses hydroelectric electricity from Bonneville Power Administration, which is essentially emissions free. Ground source geo-thermal would be similarly low emission.

One of APRC’s potential goals in the upcoming biennium budget cycle is to inventory the maintenance equipment emissions. We hope to be able to accomplish the audit by the end of the fall 2021 and look at replacement and performance of equipment and how cost effective it is.

Ashland’s parks and recreation provide important quality of life for Ashland residents. The commission hopes to ensure that APRC — including 18 parks, multiple open spaces, the pool, senior services, North Mountain Park Nature Center, the golf course, the ice skating rink and others — are financially sustainable. Because sustainability also means minimizing changes to our environment, we are also committed to minimizing our greenhouse gas emissions. As a responsible community member, we strive to make our world more sustainable.

Julian Bell is a commissioner for the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission.