Hundreds rally to tout expansion

Before the meeting even started, they were there.

Wielding signs reading "Support the expansion" and "Kids need better terrain," Mt. Ashland expansion supporters heeded the call from the Mt. Ashland Association to rally Tuesday before an Ashland City Council meeting.

About 150 supporters showed up outside of council chambers to express support for the proposed expansion. The Ashland City Council considered a resolution Tuesday to ask the Mt. Ashland Association and the U.S. Forest Service to wait until an a lawsuit is resolved in district and appelate courts before cutting trees for a proposed ski area expansion. 

Kathy Yeoman, a Spanish teacher at Ashland Middle School, brought her two grandchildren in support of the ski area expansion. Yeoman's husband, Gary, operates the wastewater treatment facility at Mt. Ashland.

"I think it's essential that we do the small amount of opening up of the mountain that gets more people out to support the wilderness," Yeoman said. "I know there is a small amount of damage that happens when you put in trails or ski runs, but I think if it's all simply roped off, it's going to prevent thousands of people from getting there."

Horns from passing cars honked in support of the rally, and supporters shouted in favor of the expansion.

Gary MacGraw, president of the Mt. Ashland Racing Association, said he supports the expansion because it will let more children participate in the program and ski easier terrain.

"What's happened over the years, as our program has grown and Mt. Ashland has grown, is we've really gotten squeezed by the space," MacGraw said.

A small, counter-rally mingled in with the pro-expansion signs and shouts of support. Ryan Navickas and Kristin Steuk dressed like skiers and toted signs reading "I hate trees" and "We don't drink Ashland water anyway." Their parody of the rally incited arguments and sarcastic shouts from both sides.

For Lesley Adams, outreach coordinator for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and one of the drafters of the council resolution, the supporters for the pro-expansion rally misdirected their message.

"All these folks out here with these signs say they support the expansion," Adams said. "The resolution that's in front of the council isn't pro-expansion or anti-expansion. It's about the democratic process. It's about asking the Mt. Ashland Association to respect the judicial system and allow this project to be determined by the courts to be legal or illegal."

Tuesday night's resolution, which failed, would have sent a request from the City of Ashland to the U.S. Forest Service and the Mt. Ashland Association. It asked them not to begin expansion work until an appeals process finishes. Judge Owen Panner heard oral arguments from both sides in a lawsuit against the Forest Service Aug. 7. When he rules, environmentalists worry the ski area will begin timber removal in the expansion area (at the top of the city's watershed) before plaintiffs can file for an appeal.