Stage set for beau­ti­ful visit to Ash­land, Ore.

Boston Herald - - THE EDGE - By BRIAN J. CANTWELL

ASH­LAND, Ore. — Shortly af­ter hit­ting town re­cently, we ate a pic­nic lunch at a shaded ta­ble by Ash­land Creek. A few feet away, chil­dren played in the wa­ter un­der par­ents’ watch­ful eyes as new ar­rivals skipped across a vin­ tage foot­bridge.

That evening we had a cou­ple of rounds of fas­ci­nat­ing lo­cal beers and a good din­ner at the Caldera brew pub, next to the creek.

Oh, and the next morn­ing we had a pic­nic break­fast by the creek. Ac­tu­ally, it was the next two morn­ings. That was af­ter hav­ing din­ner at an­other restau­rant — Green­leaf — at an out­door ta­ble along the creek.

The Oregon Shake­speare Fes­ti­val is what draws my fam­ily and many other vis­i­tors on a pil­grim­age to Ash­land ev­ery year. But Ash­land Creek and Lithia Park (which sur­rounds the creek much of its bab­bling way through this pleas­ant South­ern Oregon town) are other el­e­ments that make vis­it­ing a plea­sure.

Named one of the top 10 Great Amer­i­can Spa­ces by the Amer­i­can Plan­ning As­so­ci­a­tion in 2014, the 101­year­old, 93­acre park fol­lows clear and cold Ash­land Creek — fed by snowmelt from Mount Ash­land — past a mix of man­i­cured mead­ows and dec­o­ra­tive ponds, a Ja­panese­style gar­den and a for­mal rose gar­den, plus a scenic gully of wild wood­land with a hik­ing trail lead­ing to a reser­voir you can swim in.

The range of plant life along the creek is phe­nom­e­nal: Tow­er­ing pon­derosa pines, with bark re­sem­bling rose­pink snake­skin, com­pete in height with coast red­woods, mixed in with Cal­i­for­nia black oaks, cedars, madronas and more.

Once it emerges from the park, the chat­ter­ing brook rushes past a maple­shaded walk where art­ ists dis­play their wares at out­door booths (week­ends through mid­Novem­ber) and restau­rants serve food at wa­ter­side ta­bles dur­ing warmer months. It then ducks un­der streets, past more din­ing court­yards and pub decks, then be­hind back­yards and past an­other park be­fore feed­ing into Bear Creek, a Rogue River trib­u­tary lined by a 20­mile hik­ing and bik­ing path.

Ash­land can bake in the sum­mer, but in Septem­ber, crowds start to thin and the heat moder­ates, with 80 the av­er­age high and nights av­er­ag­ing in the low 40s. Like it cooler? The av­er­age daily high is 68 in Oc­to­ber, and the Shake­speare Fes­ti­val con­tin­ues through Oct. 29. (Out­door per­for­mances in the Allen El­iz­a­bethan The­ater con­clude Oct. 15.)

So you can still go this fall and catch out­door per­for­ mances of “Dis­ney’s Beauty and the Beast,” an in­door stag­ing of “Shake­speare in Love,” or such bard­penned fa­vorites as “The Merry Wives of Wind­sor” or “Julius Cae­sar.” Great seats can get sparse late in the sea­son (ticket sales start the pre­vi­ous Novem­ber), but it’s still doable. New this year: a new, larger out­door stage and re­mod­eled seat­ing area for the free Green Show, which fea­tures vis­it­ing dancers, mu­si­cians and other per­form­ers be­fore evening the­ater per­for­mances through midOc­to­ber.

It hap­pens that Ash­land Creek and Lithia Park played a part in spawn­ing the Tony Award­win­ning Shake­speare Fes­ti­val. The park traces its roots to the Chau­tauqua move­ment of the late 19th cen­tury, when the Chau­tauqua As­so­ci­a­tion

pur­chased 8 acres on the creek for stag­ing its trav­el­ing pro­grams of speak­ers, teach­ers, mu­si­cians, en­ter­tain­ers and preach­ers of the day, bring­ing to Ash­land such lu­mi­nar­ies as John Philip Sousa and Wil­liam Jen­nings Bryan.

That Ash­land tra­di­tion fu­eled founder An­gus Bowmer’s am­bi­tions to start in 1935 (his first pro­duc­tion: “Twelfth Night”) what to­day has become the Oregon Shake­speare Fes­ti­val. Its El­iz­a­bethan the­ater is still en­closed by the old stone walls that sur­rounded one of the Chau­tauqua the­aters.

Fall is a good time to see au­tumn col­ors in Lithia Park — the maples in the Ja­panese Gar­den put on a good show — or on big trees sur­round­ing some of the stately old homes of Ash­land’s his­tor­i­cal Rail­road Dis­trict, one of my fa­vorite ar­eas for an ear­ly­morn­ing stroll with a cup of cof­fee in hand.

It’s also prime hik­ing and cy­cling sea­son. For flat and easy, hit the Bear Creek Green­way. Have a han­ker­ing to get higher? “The Pa­cific Crest Trail goes right up and over Mount Ash­land,” said Katharine Cato of the Travel Ash­land vis­i­tor bureau. “Take a 25-minute drive from down­town on a paved road right up to Mount Ash­land and take a hike on the PCT.”

For the se­ri­ous run­ner, there’s the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon, on Nov. 4, start­ing and fin­ish­ing in Lithia Park. The course cir­cum­nav­i­gates the Ash­land wa­ter­shed be­tween Mount Ash­land and the park, ac­cu­mu­lat­ing 7,200 feet of el­e­va­tion, mostly on dirt roads and trails.

You say you’re more a Fal­staff than a Phil Knight? South­ern Oregon is also a dis­tin­guished wine re­gion, and the sunny days and cool nights of har­vest sea­son make it the right time for wine tour­ing around Ash­land. The dozen winer­ies of the Bear Creek Wine Trail are clos­est. Many grapes are grown in the re­gion, but tend­ing to pre­dom­i­nate are viog­nier, for lovers of that white wine that smells like bot­tled flow­ers, and tem­pranillo, the al­most black grape of Spain’s Rioja reds.

Also this fall: The an­nual Ash­land Culi­nary Fes­ti­val, Nov. 2-5, brings to­gether South­ern Oregon chefs, grow­ers, wine­mak­ers and brew­ers to share their wares and com­pete in cook-offs at a lo­cal ho­tel.

It’s not held at a pic­nic ta­ble on Ash­land Creek. But the days could be get­ting pretty chilly by then.

TNS PHOTOS

COOL SCENE: Septem­ber tem­per­a­tures max out at 80 de­grees in Ash­land, Ore., perfect for en­joy­ing the bal­cony of Gran­ite Tap­house, above; No­ble Cof­fee in the Rail­road dis­trict, right; as well as lo­cal wine at the Lunch Show, lower right.

TNS phoToS

FREE SHOW: The Oregon Shake­speare Fes­ti­val’s free Green Show got a larger stage and re­mod­eled seat­ing area.

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