A colorful new work of public art erected Wednesday on Bandersnatch Trail above the southern tip of Lithia Park, depicts the watershed’s birds, fish, lizards and trees stacked up as rocks and tiles, about 8 feet high, in the style of many cairns seen in wilderness areas. It will be officially dedicated at a ceremony on Saturday.
The striking and lovely art was funded by a $3,500 grant from Lloyd Haines and Friends, given to the Watershed Art Group, comprised of city Councilor Stefani Seffinger, state Rep. Pam Marsh, tile artist Sue Springer and Public Art Commissioner Dana Bussell. They chose Karen Rycheck of Ashland to execute the piece, called “Water is Life.”
“I got the idea from all the stone cairns I saw while hiking in my early years here and I thought of them as a basic art form,” says Rycheck. “I’m really proud of it. It’s my first public sculpture. My earlier tile works were on walls or floors. It honors the watershed. I’ve always been very interested in the many creatures here.”
It's made up of four big “rocks” on a pole with little flat rocks in between. The big rocks aren’t really rocks; they’re insulated foam board, covered with tile. Depicted are an eagle, bird, fish, rough-skinned newt, Oregon salamander and a fir forest.
It’s on a fairly steep slope, but not too far or steep for a reasonably fit person to walk up to from a parking lot on Glenview Drive just east of the swimming reservoir on Ashland Creek.
“It’s great, amazing," says Seffinger. "It so celebrates the watershed. It will incentivize people to come up here and hike these trails.” She was present for the assembly of it by Public Works department workers.
Passerby hiker Jennifer Hall said, “It’s beautiful, amazing. It’s shining. I love it."
A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held at 4 p.m. Saturday, with refreshments, at the Bandersnatch trailhead. Organizers note that parking is limited and encourage attendees to park at Lithia Park or at the reservoir and to carpool. Seffinger, Springer and Marsh will be present. The work honors Jeff McFarland, city Parks Superintendent, and leader of the effort to build the eco-friendly trail system and, notes Seffinger, “the Paul Bunyan of Ashland.”
The first sculpture, installed in 2015 near the Bandersnatch trailhead, shows a Pacific fisher, an elusive weasel-like critter present in the watershed. It’s by Jeremy Criswell. The cairn is above that. A third one is planned along the trail. All are funded by Haines & Friends.
“Water is life,” says Seffinger, citing the name of the new sculpture. “It’s our precious resource and no life would exist without it. This shows the symbolic connection with everything and with the Earth."
Commenting on many boards, commissions and departments, public and private that groomed the watershed to fit with the natural environment, supply virtually all of Ashland’s water, prevent fires and invite many hikers daily, Seffinger says it’s being recognized around the country and being visited by parks officials who want to copy the model. About the charming trail names, most of them from Lewis Carrol’s “Alice in Wonderland,” Seffinger says biking high schoolers started the tradition. When children are brought here to hike, she adds, it’s a tradition they tend to continue all their lives.
The nonprofit Woodland & Trails Association maintains the trails, while the Ashland Forest Lands Commission recommends action to the City Council, she says, even forming plans for coming climate change, especially watching for species that need protection.
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.