The Ashland Woodlands & Trails Association is the winner of this year's James M Ragland Memorial Volunteer Spirit Community Service Award for its work to encircle Ashland in an 'emerald necklace' of trails and open space.

The Ashland Woodlands & Trails Association is the winner of this year's James M. Ragland Memorial Volunteer Spirit Community Service Award for its work to encircle Ashland in an "emerald necklace" of trails and open space.

Mayor John Stromberg presented volunteers from the nonprofit AWTA with a plaque for the award during the City Council's regular meeting on Tuesday. The city also hosted a reception to honor the association before the meeting.

At the reception, Stromberg said, "The AWTA volunteers are exactly the kinds of people who make Ashland such a wonderful community. Their dedication to providing trails for biking and walking not only give Ashland residents an excellent quality of life, but they provide alternative transportation options, which is vital to a sustainable community."

Since its founding in 2001, the association has tackled numerous projects.

"We have people who really spend a lot of time on our projects," AWTA Board of Directors President Rob Cain said, noting that the group has about 200 members.

As an example of one project, in the winter of 2006-2007 AWTA members worked with the Ashland Parks and Recreation Department to build a connector trail between Ashland Loop Road and Glenview Drive. Volunteers also planted pine trees to screen the trail from neighbors. Work crews from the Job Council's Forestry Program and the Lithia Boys Home built a fence to keep users back from a cliff edge, according to the AWTA Web site.

Ashland Parks and Recreation Department Director Don Robertson said AWTA is a worthy recipient of the city's annual volunteer award.

"Without them, we wouldn't be nearly where we are. It's a well-deserved honor," he said.

Working with the parks department and Southern Oregon University students in 2008 on another project, AWTA developed a new trail off of Granite Street that connected with an existing trail along a Talent Irrigation District canal, the Web site said.

SOU students help AWTA annually during the university's community involvement day held in September, Pain said.

"We've always had a great turn-out. Usually we take them up to the Pacific Crest Trail. Sometimes even the ones who are local have never been there," he said.

The AWTA has adopted dozens of miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches from Canada to Mexico, and regularly works on different sections.

The group also frequently works with members of the Southern Oregon Mountain Bike Association, and also has cooperated with the U.S. Forest Service and other government and conservation organizations.

With its partners, AWTA has built and maintained a number of trails in Ashland's public parks, in the Ashland Watershed and even out at Applegate Lake.

Pain said AWTA volunteers usually work on Saturday morning, but plan to hold some mid-week, Saturday afternoon and even Sunday work parties.

This spring and summer, the association has multiple events planned, including completing construction of a new trail off Granite Street and working on the Pacific Crest Trail and Wagner Gap Trail.

In addition to building and maintaining trails, the association raises money through grants and private donations to buy land and fund its trail work.

Visit www.ashlandtrails.org to join, learn how to make a donation, view maps of trails in and around Ashland, get details on upcoming work parties and read more about the group. Membership in the association is free.

The 2008 winner of the Ragland award was former Ashland School District Board of Directors member and school volunteer Amy Amrhein, who was recognized for working to support schools for more than a decade.

The city's volunteer award was named after James M. Ragland, who served in numerous volunteer roles, including on the City Council and Ashland Planning Commission.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.