They don't draw attention like Lithia Park, or make a summer splash like Garfield Park's water feature, but Ashland's lesser-known parks provide refuge and recreation.

On Monday evening, Parks and Recreation Commissioners toured four parks hidden just off busy streets or tucked away in quiet neighborhoods as they mulled challenges and opportunities for the sites.

"These are truly neighborhood parks that in some cases are set back in neighborhoods where people wouldn't necessarily go unless they lived there," Parks Director Don Robertson said.

Sherwood Park, located behind Fire Station No. 2 on Ashland Street, faces near certain change. Last November, Ashland voters rejected plans for a new fire station there as too extravagant. The

new fire station would have consumed a portion of the park.

Firefighters continue to work in the cramped space, but Commissioner Jim Lewis said a future station expansion is probably inevitable unless the station is sited somewhere else.

The park is home to bocce ball courts, playground equipment and lawn areas.

Robertson said the restroom is not compliant with federal Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, and the playground equipment may need updating.

"Merry-go-rounds are still a lot of fun, but they are probably the highest liability apparatus ever invented," he said.

As for grassy areas, Parks Head Gardener Donn Todt said downsizing the lawn could reduce water use, but then workers would battle with weeds. Trees &

especially species from the east coast and Asia &

could suffer if parks receive less water. But he said the parks department does have to consider wise water use.

Commissioners and parks staff members are looking at practices throughout the parks system to see how to reduce the impact on the environment. The parks department, a semi-autonomous entity with its own elected commission, may team with the city of Ashland's Conservation Division to work on conservation and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Robertson said.

Vehicles zipped past on the Ashland Street overpass near Interstate 5, while Clay Street Park &

screened off by trees &

stretched out below.

Workers recently finished clearing out blackberries choking the banks of a small creek running at the edge of the park, which is bordered by homes and apartment buildings.

"We eliminated the blackberries primarily as a fire hazard," Todt said. "I don't know if any of you have seen a great big mound of blackberries go off in the summer, but it's impressive. It would be particularly impressive for the people living near those mounds."

The blackberry bushes were littered with beer cans and whiskey bottles, indicating the area may have been used as a secret camping spot.

Neighbor Ruth Coulthard does volunteer work with the homeless, but she told commissioners she was still disturbed about hearing a person near her deck at night and finding a bucket she believes was filled with human waste. She said the clearing of the bushes may have given people more space to camp, while also removing a source of fresh fruit for neighbors.

"It was a family activity to pick blackberries and they were unfriendly to sleep in," she said.

Robertson said because of the size of the lawn, the park has great potential as a future community garden site.

Commissioner JoAnne Eggers asked Coulthard if she could envision a community garden taking up a portion of the lawn.

Coulthard said she would love to see cherry trees, which are less messy than trees with larger fruit, such as plums.

"It's nice to have things people can glean. This is a low-income neighborhood," she said.

Near the intersection of Glenwood Drive and Ashland Street, Glenwood Park is a park well-suited for human and animal foragers. A house was moved to make way for the park, but trees from a home orchard remain, including an unusual heirloom pear tree with delicious fruit. Parks workers have allowed blackberry bushes to grow along one side of the park, Todt said.

Workers also use less water on a portion of the lawn to prevent root fungus in a group of oaks on the property, he said.

The tree-filled park doesn't have a playground, but Todt said the area is well used by picnickers and Southern Oregon University students who live nearby.

The shaded site would probably not work well for a community garden.

The park has a troublesome patch of non-native grass that has created maintenance headaches. Todt said he is weighing whether to use herbicides to knock out the grass and then replant with lavender.

The parks commission will hold a study session on herbicide use in October, he said.

At the intersection of Garden Way and Clarke Avenue, Garden Way Park has a children's playground surrounded by a fence adorned with metal cougars, bears, wolves, fish, moose, lizards and kangaroos. A shelter protects picnic tables. Graceful crab apple and Scotch pine trees give the park the feel of a Chinese landscape painting.

A flowering ash tree that is native to the Mediterranean Sea region is the only one of its kind in the parks system, Todt said.

Robertson said there is a possibility of bringing a creek that runs under the park to light.

Ashland has many small creeks that were diverted into pipes to make way for development. Some portions have been "day-lighted," including a creek that runs by Walker Elementary School on Walker Avenue.

Day-lighting the stream below Garden Way Park would create a stream corridor, but the trade-off would be a loss of park land, Robertson said.

A small community garden could be added to buffer the park from Clarke Avenue and serve as a neighborhood meeting spot, he said.

"What we want to do is spread them out so people don't have to get in their cars and drive to a community garden," Robertson said. "They can walk down the street and talk to their neighbors about the issues of the day."

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com. To post a comment, visit .