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Shakespeare and Mother Nature team up in southern Oregon
By Tom Adkinson
Published October 4, 2019

lithia park in ashland oregon
Mother Nature puts on an autumn display at the 93-acre Lithia Park in downtown Ashland, Oregon; image by Tom Adkinson.

ASHLAND, Oregon – People flock to this small city in southern Oregon because of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, but Mother Nature isn’t about to let the Bard of Avon upstage her. Her performance space is Lithia Park, a 93-acre enclave just a few minutes’ walk from the three-stage theater complex.

Actually, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Mother Nature are more complementary than competitive.

lithia park water fountain has curative properties
Lithia water smells bad and tastes worse, but it supposed has come curative properties; image by Lois Adkinson.
ashland creek
Ashland Creek originates high in the mountains above Ashland and creates the environment for a beautiful park; image by Tom Adkinson.

A walk on a wooded trail can be soothing after a heavy dose of “Macbeth,” while watching the light-hearted competition of pickleball players can extend the good feelings that come from enjoying “La Comedia of Errors” (a bilingual adaptation of “The Comedy of Errors”), both of which were in the festival’s 2019 lineup.

lithia park pickleball
It’s possible that the rustling of leaves and the click, click, click of pickleball are the only sounds you’ll hear in Lithia Park; image by Tom Adkinson

Lithia Park is the kind of accessible urban treasure that travelers love to discover. It fills a narrow canyon drained by Ashland Creek and stretches from a downtown plaza toward the creek’s headwaters on Mount Ashland (elevation 7,532 feet in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest).

Walk just a few yards off of Ashland’s main street, and you are in a quiet woodland with miles of trails, ponds, a bandshell and a Japanese garden among its attractions – plus those pickleball courts.

What now is the park’s entrance was the site of a flourmill in the mid-1800s. By the early 1900s, the mill was on its last legs, and a civic movement began for a park along the creek. Compounding that movement was discovery of a lithia water spring four miles away and the idea to develop a mineral water resort.

Lithia water occurs naturally and has a high concentration of lithium oxide. Waters from various sources at Saratoga Springs, New York, for instance, have lithium in their mixtures of minerals.

Ashland’s mineral water resort idea never blossomed, but water from the mineral spring was piped to Lithia Park to create the Lithia Fountain in 1927. Although a park sign says, “Daily Consumption Is Not Recommended,” many visitors ignore the pungent aroma and bitter taste and bravely sip away. Don’t expect to see anyone take a big gulp.

Mother Nature showed her dramatic side with damaging Ashland Creek floods in 1974 and 1997. Both times, Ashland made certain that Lithia Park bounced back. The city did such a good job that the American Planning Association, a professional organization for urban planners, named Lithia Park one of the 10 Great Public Spaces in America in 1974.

ashland spring hotel
The 70-room Ashland Springs Hotel was built in 1925 and is on the National Register of Historic Places; image by Tom Adkinson.

Just up the street from Lithia Park and the Ashland Shakespeare Festival is a third attraction – the Ashland Springs Hotel. It’s a downtown landmark that was built in 1925. Through the decades, it has had its ups and downs, and it’s definitely on a roll now.

New owners in 1998 executed what they call “a complete basement-to-parapet remodel” of the classic building, creating a 70-room gem that has the feel of a small European hotel.

lithium park doe
A whitetail doe peers up as hikers pass by on a trail inside the 93-acre Lithia Park; image by Tom Adkinson.

The Ashland Springs Hotel can be headquarters when you visit for productions at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, strolls in Lithia Park and day trips to Crater Lake National Park, historic towns such as nearby Jacksonville and relaxing visits to vineyards and wineries such as Dancin Vineyards.

Trip-planning resources: Travel Southern Oregon, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and Dancin Vineyards

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at

Published October 4, 2019

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