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As It Was: Ashland Protects Watershed Despite Early Opposition

For more than 120 years, the Ashland, Ore., City Council has protected the city’s water supply in the 14,000-acre Ashland Creek watershed despite early opposition from private and commercial interests.

In the 1880s, two sawmills operated in the watershed, cattle and sheep grazed on the hillsides, and logging sediment had built up in Ashland Creek. The Council petitioned for a federal forest reserve to protect the watershed from “timberland speculators and other types of vandals.” President Grover Cleveland established the reserve in 1893. In the 1920s, when Jesse Winburn hoped to develop his watershed property into a mineral springs resort, city officials refused and fined him repeatedly for using Ashland Creek illegally.

In 1929 and again in 1969, city leaders met with federal officials to renew the agreement making protection of the city’s water supply the primary management goal of the watershed. The agreement prohibited mining, camping and fishing, and restricted timber harvesting. In 1974, the Forest Service placed locked gates across the main roads into the watershed.

Today, the Ashland Woodlands and Trails Association works with the city to provide non-motorized access to the watershed while protecting Ashland’s water supply for future generations.

Sources: "1995 Bear Watershed Analysis." Ashland Ranger District: Rogue River National Forest, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5315928.pdf; "Ashland Watershed." Ashland Chamber of Commerce.. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. https://www.ashlandchamber.com/Page.asp?NavID=795; Hannon, Nan, and Clayton Lebow. "An Inventory, Historic Documentation, and Assessment of Cultural Resources at Winburn Camp and Lithia Springs." City of Ashland, 11 Dec. 1987. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. <https://www.ashland.or.us/Files/Winburn%20Camp%20Hannon%20Inventory%2012%2087.pdf>.

Amy Couture has a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Oregon, a master’s in teacher education from Eastern Oregon University, and a master’s in history from Minnesota State University, Mankato.  A former teacher and cross-country coach, she is the author of 14 historical vignettes in the book, Astorians: Eccentric and Extraordinary.