Ashland Family YMCA
By Sutton R. Stokes
"What do you want to do today?"
This can't be an easy question for the residents of historic Ashland, Ore.
Founded in the mid-1800s and home to Southern Oregon University and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (now in its 70th year), Ashland is nestled at the foot of the Cascade Mountains, near the headwaters of the Rogue and Klamath Rivers, and within daytrip range of Crater Lake National Park and the towering cliffs of the Oregon coast.
The region, with an elevation of 2,000 feet, enjoys four distinct if mild seasons and one of the lowest average rainfalls in the entire state, keeping outdoor recreation options open year-round. In winter, skiers can find two dozen downhill runs and 80 miles of cross-country trails on 7,500-foot Mt. Ashland, only 15 miles from town. Warmer months bring prime conditions for rafting and angling on the many nearby creeks, streams and rivers. Just outside their front doors, Ashland residents can enjoy 93 acres of downtown parkland along scenic Bear Creek.
Clearly, Ashland is a paradise for active types, but this raises a question for recreation facility administrators: Is an abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities a blessing or a curse when trying to attract people to an indoor fitness facility?
In Ashland, it appears to be a blessing. The Ashland Family YMCA, with a staff of 175 full- and part-time employees, boasts 6,700 members, or one-third of the town's 20,000 residents. Non-member participation in local YMCA-run sports leagues and other programs brings the annual number of facility users to more than 10,000, according to Ashland Family YMCA Executive Director Lisa Molnar.
"It's unusual to have that amount of a community belonging to any organization," says Molnar, whose facility offers everything from family scuba classes to yoga for seniors to junior camp counselor training for young teens, in addition to weight training, aerobics classes and an indoor pool.
"We feel like the Y is really the community center: We're the senior center, we're the fitness center, we're the largest child-care provider in Ashland," she says. "We're not the only game in town…but the Y seems to have the broadest base."
It's a broad base that has been many years in the making. There has been a YMCA in one location or another in Ashland since 1899, although the current facility didn't open until 1990. Modest in its scope, the original building included only a preschool, some offices and a small aerobics studio. Two years later, a 14,000-square-foot gymnasium was added. The initial community response was reserved.
"In those first couple of years…we were lucky if we had about 500 members," remembers Molnar, pointing out that most of those were children in day care or in youth sports leagues.
The initially moderate membership skyrocketed after the 1998 addition of an indoor pool facility. Designed by Ogden Kistler Architecture AIA, the natatorium includes a 45-by-75-foot pool, ranging from three to nine feet in depth, with a separate therapy pool. Providing the first year-round pool in the Ashland community, this addition also permitted Ashland YMCA to shift equipment and make room for expansions in all of the facility's functions, not just the pool-based activities.