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All-terrain wheelchair program comes to Lithia Park – Ashland News

Policy may change to allow herbicide use in medians to reduce damage caused by herbicide use

By Morgan Rothborne, Ashland.news

Park commissioners voiced their support and discussed parameters for a new accessibility program at Lithia Park during an Ashland Parks & Recreation Commission (APRC) study session on Wednesday.

The nonprofit David’s Chair has approached the city of Ashland about creating a track chair program at Lithia Park, said Deputy Park Director Rachel Dials.

In established locations such as Oregon beaches, people with mobility issues can try out a specially designed chair with tracks instead of wheels for free, according to the David’s Chair website. The organization also offers paragolfers, a wheelchair designed to fully lift and support the user, allowing for a golf swing.

David’s Chair will provide the chair to be stationed in Lithia Park through a grant they recently received, while the annual cost of the program – an estimated $6,000 to $7,000 – will be covered by the city of Ashland, Travel Ashland and the Ashland Parks Foundation. Maintenance of the chair will fall to David’s Chair, Dials said.

Interim City Manager Sabrina Cotta was present at the commissioners meeting to address the city’s enthusiasm for the program.

“It is a great honor to be considered, given David’s Chair’s focus on the coast, to approach Ashland. … We are very excited and committed to helping APRC and Travel Ashland and David’s Chair realize this vision,” she said.

Cotta also stated that Travel Ashland is particularly excited to see the program launch as other David’s Chair locations have seen an increase in tourism.

Dials stated that APRC staff will create a map of possible safe routes for the chair through the park and that David’s Chair staff would then test the map using the chair. Those who checked out a seat from APRC volunteers would be given the card and allowed to move freely along the routes.

The city’s legal team is currently working on liability and waivers for the program. Those checking out the seat complete the paperwork online, including a waiver, as part of reserving their time at the seat. APRC volunteers will be trained to teach those renting the chair how to operate it and provide them with the card. Seat reservations will be available within time frames specified by trained volunteers.

Commissioner Jim Bachman stated that APRC should do everything through a DEIA lens with A for access. While the proposed program supports these ideals, he was wary of whether it would have sufficient structure. He stated that he “didn’t see a solution” for staff monitoring of chair use to ensure those operating the chair did not use the chair in a way that could damage trails or cause accidents cause.

If all goes according to plan, a “soft rollout” of the program is expected in August this year. The program would be seasonal and run approximately from May to October. The city and APRC will put out a call for volunteers to implement the program once the legal issues are resolved, Dials said.

Commissioners are expected to vote and make a decision on the program at the APRC business meeting on Wednesday, June 12.

Use of herbicides is being considered

In other parks business, interim director Leslie Eldridge filed a request Wednesday to change APRC policy regarding the use of herbicides in the interest of staff safety and property protection.

Weedwhackers, also called brush cutters, unpredictably throw rocks that can fly far and fast enough to cause damage. APRC personnel have experienced several such incidents, from cracking the windshield of a passing car while working in a median to breaking the glass door of the Ashland Police Department while working in the area, according to a staff report.

Crews have also experienced numerous near misses with vehicles while working on the median. According to meeting materials, staff has reported eight incidents involving vehicles or property in the past six months.

The Oregon Department of Transportation reports that an average of 584 workers are injured or killed each year as a result of working in similarly hazardous areas near roads, Eldridge said.

Because APRC employees manage the median areas through a memorandum of understanding with Ashland’s Public Works Department, Eldridge said she discussed the issue and best practices for working in such locations with Public Works Director Scott Fleury.

A slight increase in herbicide use would reduce the amount of time staff spend on the street and the use of herbicides. The increased use of chemicals would have little to no impact on human health on the middle islands where people rarely visit.

Commissioner Jim Lewis asked how the change would affect the city’s status as a bee city.

Dials stated that a cursory look at Bee City’s guidelines regarding herbicides would allow for the proposed minimum increase.

Commissioner Rick Landt stated that he felt this was “an easy way out” and not what the people of Ashland would want. He suggested changes in landscaping and horticultural practices to minimize weed growth.

Eldridge responded that she has discussed these types of changes with Fleury and that while the public works director is flexible and interested, these changes would require scheduling and high costs. They are considered long-term goals and not an immediate solution to staff safety, she said.

Lewis said Ashland did something “monumental”: create restrictions around the use of herbicides and pesticides before lawsuits over adverse health effects were common. But in light of staff safety, it was important to be flexible, he said.

Commissioners are expected to vote on the potential change during the business meeting on Wednesday, June 12.

Email Ashland.news reporter Morgan Rothborne at [email protected].

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