Tipi Village residents contemplate their next move

Late September is a time when members of the semi-nomadic Tipi Village prepare to move their tepees from high atop the Greensprings to low-elevation land and away from winter's snows.

For the past five autumns, the group has gauged changing winds and migrating birds to tell it when to leave a patch of private land within the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument for another private plot owned by the same family that's closer to Emigrant Lake and largely under the snow line.

"Every year when it comes to moving time, we always remember we don't have to return to the same spot," says Kayla Blanchflower, one of the village's inaugural members. "So far, though, the inspiration has been 'yes.' "

This time, the choices are up in the wind, yet in a far different manner.

The villagers face an uncertain future as they inch closer to their Oct. 1 deadline to disband their village because it's a violation of Jackson County planning codes and the land it sits on is being sold.

They can't move to their lower-elevation land because it's also for sale and faces the same code violations.

With their plan to raise $300,000 to buy the property all but dead, both short-term and long-term prospects for the villagers' future remain as murky as the fall fog that often shrouds the mountains east of Ashland.

"The land is saying you go somewhere for the winter and I accept that," Blanchflower says. "But we're not sure where we'll go this winter. Everything's up in the air."

The fate of the about 20 villagers has been in flux since summer, when the Mosby family that owns both parcels began to sell off some of its holdings east of Ashland, including the 190 acres off Soda Mountain Road where the group has spent six summers under an agreement with the Mosbys.

The Mosbys gave the villagers until Oct. 1 to match the $300,000 bid they say they have received on the land.

Villagers launched a fundraising campaign to "liberate" the land by buying it and setting it in a trust.

Despite online offerings of goods and services as incentives for donations, they've raised about $4,000, Blanchflower says.

"It's been a real bummer," she says.

Compounding their woes is a recent county ruling that tepees are the equivalent of tents in county codes and cannot be lived in long-term, despite villagers' belief they've been in compliance since their village first sprouted in 2008.

Under Jackson County codes, tents or tepees are allowed as "accessories" on developed lands where services such as water and sewage are assumed to be available, says Kelly Madding, the county's development services director.

That's different than undeveloped lands like that of Tipi Village, where members drink from a stream and have a portable toilet at the sites.

With the Oct. 1 deadline closing, villagers could move onto nearby federal Bureau of Land Management lands under rules similar to hunters and others who set up short-term camps in the woods outside of improved campgrounds.

But like others, they face a 14-day camping restriction, according to BLM rules.

For the long haul, the group would like to see a way to live on private lands where the landowner can be in harmony with county rules, such as by getting their property designated as a private campground or perhaps other avenues where the tepee dwelling would align with county codes.

"Ideally, we'd like to find some private land where the owner is open to the village to come in a one-year experiment to see how it goes," Blanchflower says.

But it won't go on the Mosbys' 190-acre tract, where the villagers earlier this week had a ceremony under the harvest moon they've become accustomed to each late September.

"I'm feeling quite sad this is the last full moon on this land," Blanchflower said.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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