Mary Chilton, the owner of property above the Ditch Trail who has been fighting to keep trail walkers from parking on her property, was arrested Friday for assault and harassment and taken to the Jackson County Jail for allegedly slapping a woman who had parked at the north trailhead.

The assault took place in the presence of a police officer who was called by the victim to investigate a potential criminal mischief complaint resulting from what she said was the intentional flattening of her tire while parked on Chilton’s property.

Ashland police Chief Tighe O’Meara said when the officer asked Chilton about the flattened tire, Chilton approached the victim and slapped her, knocking her cellphone against her head and “causing minor injury.” Chilton then tried to leave the scene so the officer arrested her, O’Meara said.

The slap and injury, O'Meara said, “is why she was charged with assault instead of (just) harassment.”

Chilton in recent weeks has posted signs saying “Private driveway entrance. Private property. No entry. No parking. Your vehicle license has been recorded. Trespassers will be prosecuted.” Added in the last few days was a sign about where to retrieve a towed car from Dick’s Towing in Medford.

City officials have looked at tax records and determined Chilton does own the area where vehicles park but does not own the Ditch Road, which doubles as a walking and biking trail. It runs from Grandview to Strawberry Lane and follows a Talent Irrigation District ditch.

Several hikers have reported flattened tires, but O’Meara said, “It was never substantiated that she did it. But I hope she recognizes that if she does something criminal she is liable for it. If we can identify that she did it, we would charge her with criminal mischief.”

Hiker Heiland Hoff, a Talent architect, hikes the trail daily and said he returned to his vehicle to find all tires deflated.

“I had a confrontation with her,” he said. “She was yelling at me and telling me I was a thief for walking across her property. She said she was going to call the police."

Hiker Karen Campbell said she returned from a hike and found her car with a flat tire and the owner yelling from the hill above the trail. In an email, she said police arrived and told hikers they should park on streets a couple hundred yards above the trail.

However, hiker Sherrie Morgan and others oppose the notion that the trailhead parking area is private, saying that long usage by the public gives it a “prescriptive easement,” that is, a right to continued use.

With Hoff’s financial support, Morgan has retained Ashland attorney Chris Hearn, a former City Council member, to “bring a class action suit on behalf of the public to recognize that prescriptive easement, including the parking area, as having historic public access to the Ditch Trail off Grandview Street.”

Morgan said the public’s right to pass through the property has been established with the city’s use of “woof waste” units at the trailhead, backed by the fact that “parking has to be included because the walk from streets above the trail requires use of Grandview, which is narrow, steep, has no shoulder and is unsafe.”

O’Meara said a property owner unilaterally can call a tow truck, “but if it’s done inappropriately, then the caller would have civil liability and it would put that (legal action) in motion. It is Ms. Chilton’s property and she can have them towed.”

Campbell also wrote, “Hikers anywhere in the world are protectors of natural beauty. On the TID trail, we protect each other. We start stalled cars, warn against bears, find lost keepsakes and make friends. We are householders, professionals, OSF performers, long-distance runners, grandparents and grandchildren. Ashland is a small town of intelligent people with long memories.”

— Reach Ashland freelance writer John Darling at jdarling@jeffnet.org.