Ashland’s centerpiece is 100-acre Lithia Park (340 S. Pioneer St.). Recognized as a National Historic Site, the park was designed by John McLaren, landscape architect of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. It is set along Ashland Creek where the Takelma people camped and where Ashland, Ohio, immigrants built the region’s first flour mill in 1854.
The park owes its existence to Jesse Winburne, who made a fortune from New York City subway advertising and in the 1920s tried to develop a spa around Ashland’s Lithia Springs, which he said rivaled the venerated waters of Saratoga Springs, New York. Although the spa never caught on due to the Depression, Winburne was nevertheless instrumental in landscaping Lithia Park with one of the most varied collections of trees and shrubs of any park in the state.
Winburne was also responsible for piping the famous Lithia water to the plaza fountains so all might enjoy its beneficial minerals. While many visitors find this slightly sulfurous, effervescent water a bit hard to swallow, many locals have acquired a taste for Ashland’s acerbic answer to Perrier and happily chug it down.
A walk along Winburne Way’s beautiful tree-shaded trail is a must. This footpath and a scenic drive through the park start west of the Lithia Fountain. Redwoods, Port Orford cedars, and other species line the drive, which takes you along Ashland Creek to the base of the Siskiyou Mountains.
The hub of the park in the summer is the band shell, where concerts, ballets, and silent movies are shown. Children love to play at the playgrounds or feed the ducks in the ponds. Big kids enjoy tennis, volleyball, horseshoes, or exploring one of the many trails in the park. A Farmers and Crafters Market (Tues., Thurs., and Sat. May–Nov.) is held on Water Street next to Ashland Creek. Rogue Valley farmers and craftspeople sell arts and crafts, fruit and produce, and dried flowers.
Pick up the Woodland Trail guide at the plaza’s visitors center kiosk. The gentle mile-long loop takes you from the plaza past a beautiful Japanese garden to the upper duck pond where mallards, wood ducks, and the endangered western pond turtle can be seen on the pond’s island. A highlight for bird-watchers in winter is 100–200 wood ducks and ouzels diving for fish below the surface of Ashland Creek.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel