Stephen McDowell, 11, of White City, plants seeds while wearing a costume for a trash-a-thon contest at Saturday’s annual Earth Day event at ScienceWorks Museum in Ashland. McDowell earned first place in the “most recycled” category. 4/19/08 Denise Baratta

Earth Day '08

ASHLAND — John Price enthusiastically shared his club's dreams for an expanded hiking trail system in and around Ashland as visitors passed his booth on Saturday afternoon.

"Our wish list includes a trail up Wagner Butte, connecting to Mount Ashland," said Price, a volunteer with the Ashland Woodlands and Trails Association. "And we'd like to get one up Grizzly Peak, too."

The association with a couple hundred members was founded early this decade to foster trail maintenance and development. It even has adopted a 30-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail from around The Greensprings to Mount Ashland.

AWTA was among 80 organizations, agencies and businesses making their pitch to make the planet a better place on Saturday during an Earth Day celebration outside ScienceWorks Museum.

"The No. 1-thing we we're hoping for today is to expand our volunteer base," Price said. "We're a non-dues organization and we do a lot of trail maintenance, so volunteers are important to us."

From water and soil, to energy and food arenas, there were plenty of opportunities to educate and recruit advocates to a plethora of causes — both privately and publicly funded.

"In our case, a lot of people just want to know where the trails are," Price said. "And how to get there."

Siskiyou Field Institute in Selma, an education organization spun off from the Siskiyou Project, offers 65 classes — some for college credit through Southern Oregon University — mostly on weekends.

"We try to get people out and see things on hikes around the area," said Cece Bowerman, an AmeriCorps volunteer working with Siskiyou Field Institute. "We try to get people involved with what's out there."

Sam Whitridge, program coordinator for Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board in the Rogue Valley, saw Saturday as an opportunity to talk about water issues just as he does with 3,500 school kids throughout the year. In the near future, he will move his office from Ashland to the Jefferson Nature Center at the new U.S. Cellular sports complex in Medford.

"Our task is to get kids out of the classroom and have more hands-on experience," Whitridge said.

Such was the order of the day for many of the exhibitors.

Organic growers brought the dirt and kids obligingly played in it.

"We want to show the full cycle of using animal waste in the farm cycle," said Lanita Witt of Willow-Witt Ranch on Shale City Road. "We have our goats and chickens here, we talk about meat and fertilizer and compost. We're all about sustainable agriculture and not using pesticides. A lot of people want to know what we do on the ranch, but they also want to educate themselves."

They picked up pointers such as having chickens is legal in Ashland, Witt said. "But not roosters because of the noise."

Eagle Mill Farming Education Project, a nonprofit backed primarily by Ron Roth, operates a pumpkin patch harvested by local kindergartners for the past 20 years.

"We're working with Dunbar Farms, Hillcrest Orchards and Kids Unlimited to show kids how food is processed right here," said Eagle Mill board member Jeanine Sturm. "The idea of connecting the kids with the earth is really important."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail

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