ashland.news
June 14, 2024

All-terrain wheelchair program coming to Lithia Park

A David's Chair user on the Oregon Coast. David's Chair Facebook page photo (facebook.com/Davidschairoutdoormobility)
June 6, 2024

Policy may change to allow herbicide use in median stripes to reduce damage caused by weed whacker use

By Morgan Rothborne, Ashland.news

Parks commissioners expressed support and discussed the parameters for a new accessibility program in Lithia Park during an Ashland Parks & Recreation Commission (APRC) study session Wednesday.

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

In established locations such as Oregon beaches, those with mobility challenges can check out a specially designed chair with tracks rather than wheels free of cost, according to the David’s Chair website. The organization also offers paragolfers, a wheelchair designed to fully lift and support the user to allow for a golf swing. 

David’s Chair will provide the chair to be stationed at Lithia Park, thanks to a $20,000 grant they recently received from Ashland Community Health Foundation, while the annual cost of the program — an estimated $6,000 to $7,000 — will be picked up 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 joined the commissioners meeting to speak to the city’s enthusiasm for the program.

Representatives of the David’s Chair nonprofit talk about the original chair created for use by disabled individuals on surfaces that are unusable by traditional wheelchairs during a grant presentation gathering in Lithia Park. The Ashland Community Health Foundation gave David’s Chair a $20,000 grant. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

“It’s quite an honor to be considered, given David’s Chair’s focus on the coast, for them to approach Ashland. … We are very excited and committed to helping APRC and Travel Ashland and David’s Chair in realizing this vision,” she said. 

Cotta also stated Travel Ashland is particularly excited to see the program begin because other David’s Chair locations have enjoyed an increase in tourism.

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

The city’s legal team is currently working on liability and waivers for the program. Those who check out the chair will fill out paperwork online, including a waiver, as part of reserving their time with the chair. APRC volunteers will be trained to teach those renting the chair how to operate it and provide them with the map. Reservations for the chair will be available within the time frames given by trained volunteers.

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

If all goes as planned, a “soft roll-out” of the program is expected by August of this year. The program would be seasonal, running roughly from May to October. The city and APRC will put out a call for volunteers to run the program once the legal technicalities have been resolved, Dials said.

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

Herbicide use considered

In other Parks business Wednesday, Interim Director Leslie Eldridge made a request to amend the APRC policy concerning use of herbicides in the interest of staff safety and protection of property.

Weed whackers, also known as string trimmers, unpredictably toss rocks which can fly far and fast enough to do damage. APRC staff have had several incidents of this kind, from cracking the windshield of a passing car while working in a street median to breaking the glass door of the Ashland Police station while working in the area, according to a staff report.

Staff have also experienced numerous near misses with vehicles while working on street medians. In the previous six months, staff have reported eight incidents with vehicles or property, according to meeting materials. 

The Oregon Department of Transportation reports an average of 584 workers injured or killed due to working in similarly dangerous areas near roadways every year, Eldridge said. 

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

Slight increases in use of herbicides would decrease the amount of time staff spend in street medians and using weed whackers. The increased use of chemicals would have little to no human health impacts in median islands where people seldom go.

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

Dials stated a cursory look at guidelines for Bee City’s concerning herbicides would allow for the minimal increase proposed.

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

Eldridge responded that she has discussed those kinds of changes with Fleury and, while the public works director is amendable and interested, these changes would require planning and large expenses. They are considered long-term goals rather than an immediate solution for staff safety, she said.

Lewis said Ashland did a “monumental thing,” creating restrictions around use of herbicides and pesticides before lawsuits concerning their 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 Wednesday, June 12, business meeting.

Email Ashland.news reporter Morgan Rothborne at morganr@ashland.news.

June 7: Information added about the source and amount of the grant David’s Chair received that made the Lithia Park chair possible.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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