ASHLAND — The Southern Oregon sun is known to bake its inhabitants, and a popular coping mechanism is smack-dab in the center of Ashland. The shaded oasis of Lithia Park features 93 acres of forested canyon land on either side of Ashland Creek.
“It’s such a beautiful day,” said Rachel O’Neal, playing in the water with her toddler, Charlotte, near an old, stone footbridge. “We had to come over for a day trip from Klamath Falls.”
The water always has been the park’s main draw. More than a century ago, the creek was found to contain lithium oxide, which gave the park its name. Pioneers came from far and wide because they thought the water had healing properties, and the city of Ashland grew around Lithia Park. To this day, much of the city’s drinking water comes from Ashland Creek.
The park was largely designed in the early 20th century by John McLaren, superintendent of the world-famous Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. His motto was “Trees, and more trees,” and Lithia Park hews closely to form, though the creek ties the park together. It flows past such diverse attractions as a bandshell, a formal rose garden, a historic automobile camp, tennis court, and the Perozzi Fountain, a marble marvel topped by a carved cherub riding a duck.
Mating pairs of mallards cooled off in the two duck ponds, under the shade of sycamore, copper-colored Ponderosa pine and rough-barked California black oak. The plates of tree bark fit together like jigsaw pieces. Up a trail, deep in the forest, a grove of old madrone watched over a range of sturdy wooden tables built in 1937, one of many perfect picnic spots along the rushing creek.
Boys from Redding, Calif., swung on a swingset in the park’s playground, while in town to learn about Southern Oregon University. Theater-goers cooled off between plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival campus.