September 24, 2005
from Lenny Friedman’s class at Rogue River Middle School plays on the ropes course, a year-round feature at EarthTeach Forest, nine miles up Dead Indian Memorial Road.
Submitted photo
An eighth-grader
EarthTeach: Open to all
By Robert PlainAshland Daily Tidings
Magical forests are many in Southern Oregon. Most, however, are far from town or buried deep inside federal land.
EarthTeach Forest, on the other hand, is 1,680 acres of magical forest only nine miles from downtown Ashland and right off Dead Indian Memorial Road.
A public park for all to enjoy, the children of John and Virginia Cotton, prominent Ashlanders of a generation ago, preserved the land their father once “judiciously logged” 50 years ago.
Now, with the help of Pete and Chris Cotton, two of the four Cotton children and working to restore the landscape and introduce it to Ashland, their land is a place for all to enjoy, visit, experience and learn from.
“EarthTeach is meant to be a wildlife preserve, a fire-ecology and -landscape demonstration forest and, most especially, a field site for outdoor education, experiential learning and wisdom schooling,” Pete Cotton says. “It is also a place to simply be: a place of free trespass — hiking, climbing, just sitting, seeing and listening.”
On Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Cottons are celebrating the 10th anniversary of their “legacy-in the-making” by hosting the first ever communitywide open house at Earth Teach Forest.
In addition to being able to enjoy the forest itself, there will be four live bands, several speakers, magicians and ventriloquists, a rope swing some 30 feet in the air and the opportunity to search one’s soul in the stone labyrinth at Big Sky Meadow.
Many of these features are special for Sunday’s birthday party. The rope swing and the labyrinth are staples of Earth Teach Forest.
The Giant Swing, as the Cottons call it, is part of a ropes course that meanders through the forest. Some of the ropes events occur close to the ground and appear not all that difficult. Others occur several stories above the forest floor and require at least a little courage. Every Ashland eighth-grader participates in this course as a school-sponsored activity.
The labyrinth is something that people have come from all over the country to participate in. Overlooking Mount Ashland and a wide swath of the Cascade foothills, this circular maze made from small stones is situated smack in between four oak trees, each surveyed to be exactly in line with each of the four cardinal points of the compass.
The maze of rocks, each one either collected from the property or specially brought and placed with a prayer, circles back and fourth through many layers until it reaches the center, where it is rumored that truth and/or clarity can be obtained.
“It’s one of those places you’ve got to experience for yourself,” Chris Cotton said, noting that different cultures have used the labyrinth for 4,000 years as a kind of vision quest experience. “It’s a metaphor for life.”
The EarthTeach Forest is not only open to the public on Sunday. In fact, it is always open for the public to enjoy. There is a children’s art camp in the summer and adult retreats throughout the year.
“If you feel like you need a weekend at the beach, come and spend an hour at EarthTeach and get totally renewed,” Chris Cotton said.
Pete Cotton compared EarthTeach Park to Lithia Park, except for one aspect.
“I don’t think Lithia Park has an agenda, we do,” he said. “It’s to see nature at work and offer opportunities for our kids to leave the iPod behind and reconnect with nature.”