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Patrick Duffy walks along a vernal pool at the 352-acre ranch the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy hopes to purchase near Dodge Bridge. SOLC will lead several hikes on the property this spring as part of an annual spring hike series. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch

Free hike series starts Saturday

The Southern Oregon Land Conservancy has scheduled a series of spring hikes, and a major focus will be a special chunk of land along the Rogue River that the organization is trying to purchase and preserve.

Five of the 13 hikes in the series, including Saturday's kick-off hike, will be at the so-called "Rogue River Preserve," a 352-acre ranch owned by the heirs of former Mail Tribune publisher Robert Ruhl.

The conservancy is in the midst of a $3.5 million capital campaign to buy and protect the ranch, which is home to rare vernal pools and the largest intact stand of old oak riparian land along the upper Rogue River.

The hikes will help introduce residents to this rare area, says Kristi Mergenthaler, the conservancy's stewardship director.

"It's an opportunity to see a remnant, wild, valley-floor property," Mergenthaler says. "It's a taste of a very special habitat that most people haven't experienced. We want more people to see the property and hope they support it by cheerleading or contributing to the acquisition."

The guided hikes are free and require online registration. Two hikes, not listed below, are reserved for SOLC members.

To register, go to landconserve.org.

Saturday, April 9: Rogue River Preserve birding. Look for Lewis’s woodpeckers, blue-gray gnatcatchers, wood ducks and pygmy owls during a private tour with Frank Lospalluto to explore vernal pools, oak woodlands, chaparral and the floodplain forest along the Rogue River. Southern Oregon Land Conservancy is pursuing acquisition of this beautiful property. The hike will run from 7:30 a.m. to noon. To register for the hike, go to go to landconserve.org. For more information, call call 541-482-3069.

Sunday, April 10: Oredson-Todd Woods birding. Hike the woods above Ashland with wildlife biologist and SOLC staff member Karen Hussey, and learn about some of our resident and migratory forest birds. The hike is from 8 to 10 a.m.

Wednesday, April 20: Upper Table Rock, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Each spring, SOLC hosts a special trip to the Table Rocks in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management. It was the conservation of Lower Table Rock in 1978 that led to the start of the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy.

Saturday, April 23: Rogue River Preserve ecology, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Walk the oak woodlands, vernal pools and an impressive riparian forest along the Rogue River near Eagle Point with one of the most popular hike guides in our region, Tom Atzet.

Thursday, April 28: Cascade foothills flowers, 4 to 6:30 p.m. The city of Ashland’s Imperatrice property, east of Ashland in the Cascade foothills, is an 825-acre parcel with grassland flowers, views of the southern Bear Creek Valley, and a rare breeding colony of grasshopper sparrows. Botanist and SOLC staffer Kristi Mergenthaler will lead a late-afternoon, moderately strenuous hike on a rough trail.

Sunday, May 8: This hike to the city of Ashland’s Imperatrice property, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., will be a longer and more strenuous hike than the April visit, and the group will visit the oak woodland on the ridge.

Saturday, May 14: Rogue River Preserve natural history, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Naturalist Dave Garcia will lead a hike on this property north of Eagle Point. This hike will visit the property's northern river access point.

Sunday, May 15: Oredson-Todd Woods ecology, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oredson-Todd Woods is a forested community gem above Ashland. Forest ecologist Tom Atzet will lead a hike in this conserved Ashland city park and share the ecology of the woods.

Thursday, June 9: Siskiyou Summit flowers, 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. View the wildflowers along the Pacific Crest Trail with botanist Kristi Mergenthaler at Sky King Cole, a conserved private property near Pilot Rock. The rare Greene’s mariposa lily may be in bloom.

Saturday, June 11: Cathedral Hills, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Forest ecologist Tom Atzet will lead an exploration of Cathedral Hills, a BLM natural area with public trails outside of Grants Pass.

Saturday, June 18: Dragonflies at Rogue River Preserve, noon to 4 p.m. Help us add to our dragonfly list while learning about dragonfly biology on a property on the Rogue. This outing will be led by naturalists Norm Barrett, Jim Livaudais and Gary Schaffer, who are also talented birders and photographers.

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

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