Luke Ruediger, a resident of nearby Joe Bar, walks by Harlow Cabin on Elliott Creek about a half dozen miles south of the Applegate Dam. The forest service plans to preserve the historic cabin which has been subject to vandalism over the years. - Jim Craven

Not your everyday fixer-upper

If it were advertised as a rental, the owner would have no problem coming up with a list of alluring amenities:

"Beautiful log cabin nestled among towering conifers overlooking a babbling brook and green meadow, surrounded by mountains and steeped in local history," the ad would read.

But honesty would dictate the addition, "Needs a little TLC."

Tender loving care would help preserve the 80-year-old Harlow Cabin deep in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, where it has been vandalized by weekenders holding parties there over the years, said forest archaeologist Janet Joyer.

"We have very few remaining log structures left on the forest," she said. "Most of the little log cabins we had on the forest were single-story, not two-story like this. It's not your basic thrown-up cabin by the classic single fellow out there mining. William Harlow had his family out there.

"But it's such a remote area it has been very difficult for us to monitor and patrol for activities that detract from it," she added. "There has been an element of the public that has kept other forest users from enjoying the historic values of the property. This building is on the verge of being lost for good, either through being destroyed by vandals or by being left to simply deteriorate."

After considering several options, including the worst-case scenario of burning the Harlow Cabin to the ground because of liability concerns, forest officials have decided to preserve it through the popular recreational rental program. Unused fire lookouts and other structures are rented out to forest visitors through the program, which uses rental fees to maintain the buildings.

The Harlow Cabin is in the Siskiyou Mountains Ranger District in the Elliott Creek drainage roughly half a dozen miles south of the Applegate Dam in Siskiyou County.

Given the Forest Service's limited funding, volunteer help by local folks will be needed to preserve the cabin for the future, said Donna Mickley, the district ranger who took over the helm in March.

"We are eager to take action to preserve it," she said. "But we will need a partnership here. I hope we can get some interest by local residents to form something like 'Friends of Harlow Cabin.' We are researching some grants and other ways to fund the needed work at the site."

Mickley said the goal is to raise the money this year to begin the work, which will take several years.

"Leveraging the funding is the hardest part," she said. "But we know we can't do this without people on the ground volunteering. We have to have that partnership. The locals at Joe Bar are already collecting the garbage left at the cabin."

She was referring to a one-time mining community that is now a tiny, private parcel of land consisting of half a dozen dwellings a mile downstream from the cabin.

"Preserving this cabin is a priority for the district," said Mickley, who asks anyone who wants to help preserve the cabin to contact her at 541-899-3800. "I want to gather folks together who want to help so we can have a brainstorming meeting. We are eager to start working on preserving this cabin."

That's good news to Joe Bar resident Luke Ruediger, 31, a self-taught naturalist with a keen interest in local history. He has been visiting the cabin site since he was a youngster.

"This is a one-of-a-kind resource," he said. "Restoring it to use as a rental would certainly help preserve the character of the property long-term. There is so much value in restoring and preserving this place. People would enjoy it. It's definitely an asset."

But it has been an asset that has been misused by some, he said.

"It's hard to stereotype who is causing the problem," he said. "These days, a lot of people relate to their public lands as a place to party, as a place that is lawless. We see a lot of younger people involved in that up here but I wouldn't say it is just youth.

"People have been coming up here and tearing part of the cabin apart to burn in their campfires," he added. "The second-story floor has been ripped out. A large part of the tongue-and-groove Douglas fir interior ceiling has been torn out for campfires."

Vandals also have been leaving their garbage. The Joe Bar community worked with the district staff to clean garbage from the cabin, filling a 14-foot-long trailer to the brim with trash.

"We need to create some sort of education program for people to interact in a positive way up here and stop the unruly behavior we sometimes have," Ruediger said. "It would be nice if places like the Harlow Cabin were here for people to enjoy for a long time to come. We need to preserve this history."

Creating a rental opportunity at the Harlow Cabin gives forest visitors a sense of ownership that spreads the responsibility of protecting the structures, officials said.

"When people stay somewhere, sweep the floor or swim in the swimming hole below the cabin, they become attached to it," said forest archaeological technician Dave Knutson. "They become a lot more sentimental toward it. They feel a sense of ownership.

"Over the years, we've also discovered the rental program is beneficial because it helps maintain the integrity of the structure," he added. "We use the funds from a rental to maintain it. And when structures are lived in, they tend to fare better."

A sign outside the cabin currently warns, "Restoration site. No camping. No fires. For your safety and that of others please stay clear from cabin." The doors and windows are sealed off with bright orange plastic mesh.

The windows and doors have long been broken out by vandals. Bullet holes puncture a water pipe sticking up out of the ground. The pipe was once used as part of a gravity-fed water system.

"We had to remove some interior features because of the misuse," explained Joyer, the forest archaeologist. "We had to gut the building. People were tearing up the interior. We felt it best to leave it as a shell for the time being."

However, she said, the core structure is in relatively good shape, although one log has dry rot and will need to be replaced.

"We will need time to actually do the log structure repair to make it habitable again. But our rental program has been extremely successful to help preserve structures. And most are reserved far ahead."

Nearly a dozen rentals are now available throughout the forest, with several other structures being groomed for rentals. Several forest structures are on the National Register of Historic Places, but they are frame structures, unlike the log-built Harlow Cabin, Joyer said.

"We want to keep it available for the public to enjoy and to understand the history of our area. Mining was the activity that first brought white settlers into the area. To have physical reminders of those early days is something that is very precious."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or e-mail him at

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