These free excursions are meant to be wild

Richard Hendrickson likes to help keep his 82-year-old frame young and get some clean air in his lungs by hiking Southern Oregon trails.

The retired Ashlander also enjoys the occasional volunteer-led excursion, because it's a lot like going on a fun hike with a really smart friend.

"In fact, even several smart friends," Hendrickson says. "The group leaders are always terrific. They know a great deal about the area, the geology and the plant life. And other people on the hikes are often very intelligent, too.

"We all help each other out," he says.

Hendrickson is a regular patron of free, guided hikes offered annually by the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy, which in two weeks will kick off a new set of 13 excursions designed to get people out and into the wild while sending them home more knowledgeable about Southern Oregon's natural places.

This year's hikes range from Southern Oregon staples such as a trek up Upper Table Rock with a Bureau of Land Management naturalist and birding tours of the Oredson-Todd Woods to wildflower and butterfly tours on private lands rarely open to the public.

"They do get us to places we otherwise wouldn't get to," Hendrickson says.

That's one of the purposes of the widely popular hike series, now in its third year for the 36-year-old conservancy that focuses on preserving the wild nature of the region's forests, farms and working ranches and offering connections to them.

Most of the hikes are on private lands the conservancy has helped protect and maintain. The hikes are a way to laud the lands, says Kristi Mergenthaler, a conservancy botanist who spearheads the hikes.

"We wanted to feature some of the spectacular privately owned lands in our region," Mergenthaler says. "These hikes provide access to lands normally not available to people, and almost all of them are on lands we've helped preserve one way or another."

The series begins April 12 when the "No Trespassing" signs get taken down for a few hours at C2 Ranch, a working cattle ranch of close to 10,000 acres that is also prime winter-range habitat for black-tailed deer and Roosevelt elk.

Eagle Point's Bob Hunter will lead an easy, four-hour hike on the ranch focusing on the wild birds that call it home.

Other hikes will include walks along the Siskiyou Crest, through the Jacksonville Woodlands and a tour of the habitat-restoration work done along the Rogue River reach exposed by the removal of Gold Ray Dam in 2010.

The hikes, led by naturalists associated with the conservancy, are limited to anywhere from a dozen to 20 people, and they fill up fast.

"We always have waiting lists," Mergenthaler says.

Medford's Cathy Tronquet enjoyed a winter snowshoeing hike the conservancy organized last year on private property in the Greensprings area. It was led by the landowner, who had intimate knowledge of the ground.

It had a distinct learn-what-you-want feel, with no test afterward.

"It was really fun stopping every now and then and learning something about the property," Tronquet says. "You can get as much learning out of it as you want or you can just enjoy the hike."

Hendrickson began hiking with conservancy leaders on their lands when the former linguistics professor moved to Ashland 14 years ago.

Back then, the hikes were much more informal and sporadic. Now, he and his wife, Sandra, peruse the schedule and try to garner reservations on as many of the hikes as they can squeeze in.

"We're very fond of them," he says. "We try to go as often as we can."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or

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