Snow covers the edge of a vernal pool Friday at the Rogue River ranch owned by former Mail Tribune Editor Robert Ruhl's heirs near Dodge Bridge. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch

'The little land trust that could'

EAGLE POINT — A 352-acre ranch that is home to rare woodpeckers, snakes, flowers, wild salmon and Roosevelt elk will remain undisturbed in perpetuity now that a local conservation group has raised more than $3.5 million to buy and protect it.

The Southern Oregon Land Conservancy reached its fundraising goal to purchase the riverside ranch owned by former Mail Tribune Editor Robert Ruhl's heirs and transform it into the Rogue River Preserve along two miles of Rogue frontage just upstream of Highway 234.

Along with sporting 29 "special status" species such as very rare Lewis' woodpeckers and the very uncommon common California king snake, the ranch is home to the second-largest intact riparian forest along the upper 100 miles of the Rogue, as well as vernal pools that support rare shrimp and flowers.

Such habitats face constant encroachment in the Rogue Valley, so supporters say creating this oasis will provide respite in otherwise harsh environs.

"Our main goal, really, is to let it be," says Kristi Mergenthaler, SOLC's stewardship director, who will be writing the ranch's management plan. "At the same time, we want to encourage researchers as a study site.

"Just the floodplain forest could be a good reference for future restoration projects elsewhere," Mergenthaler says.

The group had a Dec. 31 deadline in an agreement to purchase the ranch from the MacArthur family at a bargain price of $2.4 million — the ranch was appraised at $3 million. SOLC set a fundraising target of $3.5 million to cover the purchase, some light improvements and create an endowment to ensure continued stewardship.

Headed by actor Patrick Duffy, who is best known for his role on the former "Dallas" television series and who lives across the Rogue from the planned preserve, the "Heart of the Rogue" campaign as of Friday was at slightly more than $3.57 million and counting, SOLC Executive Director Diane Garcia says.

Gifts and grants ranged from $1.38 million in Oregon Lottery profits pledged from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board to hundreds of individual donations that totaled $1.1 million, Garcia says.

All the money raised for the project will be spent on it, including beefing up the endowment, Garcia says.

Garcia says some of the grants must be vetted by entities and agencies, and a conservation easement needs to be worked out with OWEB, but she hopes the sale will be finalized within two months.

SOLC plans "gentle public access" with regular guided hikes, as well as opening it to Eagle Point High School classes and researchers from places such as Southern Oregon University and the Ashland-based Klamath Bird Observatory, Mergenthaler says.

The property is a mosaic of the different types of habitat that once dominated the upper Rogue River Basin before cattle pastures, ranchettes and dream homes changed the landscape.

The lands near Upper River Road contain chaparral and buckbrush that help draw black-tailed deer and Roosevelt elk. Vernal pools dot the landscape in spring and become meadows later in the year sprinkled with natural springs, rare white fairy poppy plants and surprisingly few invasive Himalayan blackberries.

Much of the ranch is unblemished by non-native vegetation, but even some of the invasive plants that are present are losing ground naturally. Others already have been pulled.

Mergenthaler acknowledges that such a large fundraiser for the conservancy was a big step up from its past projects, but she says she believed they would reach their goals.

"I had a lot of faith that the property would help us," Mergenthaler says. "I just think of ourselves as the little land trust that could."

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or Follow him on Twitter at

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