Residents and employees of local businesses have adopted six parks plus Lithia Park's Japanese Garden as part of an expanding effort to keep Ashland's parks system largely free of chemical pesticides.

Residents and employees of local businesses have adopted six parks plus Lithia Park's Japanese Garden as part of an expanding effort to keep Ashland's parks system largely free of chemical pesticides.

Ashland Parks and Recreation Department Volunteer and Event Coordinator Lori Ainsworth is hoping even more individuals and organizations will step forward to adopt parks or other sections of Lithia Park.

Volunteers commit to working in their adopted park at least four times per year, taking on tasks like pulling weeds, laying down mulch and fighting invasive plants such as blackberry brambles.

"It's the fine weeding and picking and invasive species removal that is the help that our parks staff really need," Ainsworth said. "Every park, open space and field could definitely stand some help four times a year."

She said she would love to see people step forward to adopt such places as Hunter Park, Garfield Park, natural areas at North Mountain Park, sections of the parks department-owned Oak Knoll Public Golf Course and areas in Lithia Park, such as its rhododendron garden.

While volunteers have worked in Ashland's parks system for years, the parks department started a push to recruit even more volunteers after deciding to forego most chemical pesticides, which include herbicides, insecticides and fungicides.

When parks workers do apply pesticides, they now rely mostly on organic products that use natural ingredients such as citrus extracts.

Volunteers have logged 7,312 hours of work in the Ashland parks system so far this year — a jump up from 4,946 hours in 2010, according to parks figures.

Those hours include time spent weeding, volunteering at the North Mountain Park Nature Center, working on trails and acting as park, pool and ice rink hosts, Ainsworth said.

Most of the volunteers who have adopted Ashland parks are taking a break right now because of the frozen ground and wintery weather.

A crew of volunteers from the Albertsons grocery store in Ashland expects to get back out in February or March of 2012 after spending a November day pulling weeds and cutting blackberries along the Calle Guanajuato, said Store Director Paige Vaughan.

The calle, behind businesses on the downtown Ashland plaza, follows Ashland Creek. It has a paved sidewalk on one side of the creek and a more natural area with trees, plants, a wood-chip walking trail and stairs on the opposite side.

The Albertsons crew was out working on the calle despite cold weather and rain, Ainsworth said.

"We have volunteer shirts that we wear for our volunteer activities," Vaughan said. "When we were working, we had a lot of people comment and ask what was going on. It was neat to say, 'We're from Albertsons and we adopted this park.' A lot of people were like, 'Wow! Thank you.'"

Albertsons volunteers have also helped out Habitat for Humanity and the store makes donations to the Ashland Food Bank, she said.

Vaughan said she would definitely recommend to other businesses that they adopt Ashland parks.

"It's a great way to build teamwork and cohesion. It's nice to get together outside of work, and it's great to be involved in the community," she said.

Wells Fargo bank recently adopted the Railroad Park, while the Soroptomists service club has helped with Garden Way park for years, Ainsworth said.

The Siskiyou School has adopted Clay Street Park and a neighborhood group called "Friends of Scenic Park" has adopted their namesake park. Local couple Richard Anderson and Alison Date adopted Lithia Park's Japanese Garden.

Some groups such as a local Ultimate Frisbee club and the I Heart Ashland faith-based service group haven't formally adopted parks, but they have helped out at places such as North Mountain Park, Ainsworth said.

At Ashland's Dog Park, frequent visitors may be familiar with Louise Shawkat and her beagle, Harry, who have adopted the town's off-leash romping ground for canines.

From July through October alone, Shawkat logged 119 hours of work at the park, Ainsworth said.

Shawkat said she has concentrated on pulling weeds, thinning trees and bushes and laying down cardboard topped with mulch to discourage future weed growth.

While large volunteer groups schedule work days to pitch in at their adopted parks, Shawkat is able to work at the Dog Park at any time that fits her schedule.

A recent transplant from Kentucky, Shawkat said volunteering at the park is a good way to meet other people and to give back to the community. She said parks department staff members have been encouraging and easy to work with.

Plus, it feels good to work with the ground, Shawkat said.

"There's just something very therapeutic about pulling weeds and putting down mulch," she said.

For information on volunteering or adopting a park, contact Ainsworth at 541-552-2264.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.