Joy Magazine

A Treasure of Trails

Photography by Jeanena Whitewilson

While the treasures of gold mined from the grounds and creeks in the vicinity of Jacksonville have long since been depleted, local visionary Larry Smith and the Jacksonville Woodlands Association (JWA) have quietly assembled a remarkable collection of living historical trails to preserve the memories of Oregon's wild juvenile days in the 1850s and '60s. Just a block off California Street (the "main drag" for Jacksonville), hikers, bikers, and even horse riders in some places, can access a treasure trove of groomed trails winding their ways through those storied hills.

Fourteen separate trails of one-half to one-and-a-half mile lengths offer a wealth of choices for views, history and degrees of difficulties. Each looped route may be accessed individually, and most feature junctions to permit extended outings for more ambitious trekkers. Smith tells of a recent conversation with an unnamed bicyclist after his first run on the trails. "This is a biking paradise because all the trails intersect," the cyclist said.

Jacksonville trails

As if the preservation of a colorful history was not enough, the Jacksonville Woodlands Association leads the way in efforts to preserve and delist the unique Gentner's fritillary from the federal endangered species list.

Discovered in the 1940s by a local entomologist, Dr. Louis Gentner and his family, this seasonal wildflower was officially classified later in the decade by Dr. Helen Gilkey of Oregon State University. Dr. Gilkey determined the lovely, bell-shaped flower to be among the world's rarest native plants with a range limited to Southern Oregon, and the Jacksonville area in particular.

Sometimes mistaken for the common recurva red bell, Gentner's fritillary is more maroon than red and sports a blanket of pale yellow freckles. Each spring, the slender stems of these plants sprout to heights of 20 to 50 inches and produce two to 13 bells per plant. They usually appear around mid-March and then succumb to warmer temperatures by April's close. They can be seen from any of JWA's trails.

Smith also relates the succinct awe expressed by members of a well-traveled film crew in town last month from Europe when they beheld the view from Panorama Point. "They just kept saying, 'Lovely,' over and over again." Maybe it was the Cascade peaks catching their fancy, or those of the Siskiyous to the south. Or perhaps spotting the distant rim of Crater Lake did the trick. All may be seen from that hilltop on a clear day.

Nearing its 20th anniversary, the non-profit JWA was founded by Smith and a Laurelwood Drive neighbor, Joe Raymond, to raise money to purchase a parcel of land above their neighborhood. These men and a rapidly expanding group of supporters wanted to preserve that ground from plans to develop home sites. Even before they raised all they needed, Southern Oregon University offered a companion parcel for a very low price. The two plots formed the nucleus of today's collection of properties spread over 320 acres and owned mostly by the City of Jacksonville, along with the Bureau of Land Management and Jackson County. JWA Executive Director Smith says, "We're the watchdogs of these 21 properties."

Thanks to the all-volunteer efforts of a full board of directors and nearly 500 individual members, JWA's role extends way beyond "watchdog" status. These dedicated supporters survey and blaze new trails and groom and maintain existing grounds while hosting thousands of local, regional and worldwide visitors year-round. The trails form a part of everyday life for many locals and serve as training grounds for both Cascade Christian and Central Point high school cross-country teams.

The town is especially proud of the Sarah Zigler Interpretative Trail for having achieved recognition as a National Recreation Trail. It's a fitting compliment to the entire town's designation as a National Historical Landmark. Beginning in Britt Gardens, this trail follows Jackson Creek through a riparian vegetation zone to the site where gold was first discovered in December 1851. Zigler trail brochures and interpretative literature are available at the trailhead to provide visitors with a self-educational, outdoor experience. All the trails feature information signs and resting points along the way.

Each spring, JWA hosts a Hike-a-Thon fundraiser open to all. For a modest donation, participants are treated to a guided nature hike, lunch, unique T-shirts and more. The event is timed to afford multiple viewings of our colorful Southern Oregon wildflowers, most of which only bloom for a few weeks each year. The star of this nature's splendor showcase is the delicate, bell-shaped Fritillaria gentneri, a member of the lily family found only in Southern Oregon.

Details of the event, and a wealth of further information are available on JWA's website: Recently revamped and expanded, the site now includes a downloadable map of the trails.

As founder Larry Smith notes, "You won't find another place like this in Oregon with so many miles of trails right next to a historic downtown."

Day-walkers of modest ability and bold mountain hikers alike will find pleasing pathways and wonders aplenty hardly a stone's throw away from Main Street in historic Jacksonville, the town built from flakes and nuggets of shiny yellow metal.

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