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Patrick Duffy is working with the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy to purchase a ranch along the Rogue River near Dodge Bridge. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch

Gem along the river

EAGLE POINT — When Patrick and Carlyn Duffy bought their Rogue River property nearly 25 years ago, he eyed the ranch across the river with its majestic oaks and unspoiled habitat, hoping it would join his as land never to be divided and conquered.

"We thought, if anybody buys this up and starts developing it, it would be horrible," says Duffy, a star on the former "Dallas" television show. 

"There are so few of these types of land masses that exist," Duffy says. "Division itself is the cancer."

Now the 352-acre ranch is for sale, and Duffy is stepping forward as the point-man for the would-be buyer, because they share his passion for keeping wild places intact. It's also their business.

The Southern Oregon Land Conservancy has launched a $3.5 million capital campaign hoping Duffy's passion and panache — along with a pending $1.4 million state grant — will create the fundraising momentum to seal the deal on the ranch by the end of this year.

Their "Heart of the Rogue" campaign targets $3.5 million — enough to cover the $2.4 million purchase price, pay for some improvements and create an endowment that would fund protection and enhancement of its myriad unique habitats in perpetuity.

Up against a Dec. 31 deadline of their agreement with the MacArthur family to buy what would become the Rogue River Preserve, the conservancy hopes a series of grants and donations will make this largest-ever of their land acquisitions a reality.

And the linchpin, leaders say, is winning the pending $1.4 million from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board next month.

"If we get the OWEB grant, that's really the link we need in our chain to keep things going," says Diane Garcia, SOLC's executive director. "So much depends upon it. It's become an important piece of the fundraising pie."

To get part of that pie, campaign leaders have the ranch selling itself.

Already more than 100 people have toured the ranch since the sale agreement was inked more than a year ago, and about $250,000 has been quietly raised, Garcia says. A series of public hikes are planned this spring and summer, and an open house is scheduled for May 21 to showcase the unique property, she says.

The property is a mosaic of the different types of habitats that once dominated the upper Rogue River Basin but largely have given way over time to cleared cattle pastures, ranchettes and dream homes.

The lands near Upper River Road contain chaparral and buck brush that help draw black-tailed deer and Roosevelt elk. Vernal pools dot the landscape and eventually become meadows sprinkled with natural springs, extremely rare white fairy poppy plants and surprisingly few 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.

The property's brightest gem, however, is its mature and largely streamside oak woodlands, the second-largest intact riparian forest along 100 miles of the Rogue. The only larger one is the publicly owned and primarily unreachable oak woodlands around the now-removed Gold Ray Dam impoundment.

SOLC last fall applied for the OWEB grant through its Land Acquisition Grant Program, which has $6.5 million to give away in two grant cycles this year and next, says Mariam Hulst, the program's coordinator.

The SOLC application is one of three totaling $3 million in this funding cycle, with the other two requests for money to purchase conservation easements on private property, Hulst says.

Staff evaluations, with recommendations for or against adoption, are expected at the end of next week, Hulst says. The board is scheduled to vote on the proposals at its April 26-27 meetings in LaGrande, she says.

Other pending grant proposals include a request for $500,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's land-acquisition program, and the group intends to apply for a wetlands conservation grant from the service, says Craig Harper, SOLC's conservation project manager.

Other grants also are pending, and they all should be meted out by late fall if the money comes toward the campaign, Garcia says.

"It's likely that we'll raise the money by Dec. 31," Garcia says.

If not, the group will mull a series of options, such as purchasing the property later, Garcia says.

To Duffy, failure is not an option.

That's why, when he first read about SOLC's plans, he called the conservancy and pledged his support.

Carlyn and Patrick Duffy are chairing the campaign, which includes a steering committee and advisers who fill a who's who list of resource-protection advocates.

His Bobby Ewing character in "Dallas" often opined, "it's all about the land!" and it never has been more true for Duffy.

Walking the would-be Rogue River Preserve under Friday's sun, he recalled how friends and family were altered by seeing the splendor of his ranch just across the Rogue.

That's more than worth preserving, he says.

"It's a place very few people ever get a chance to experience," says Duffy, 67. "Our opportunity to preserve this comes once in a lifetime. I'm near the end of my lifetime, so I decided to become involved. We need to save this."

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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