Cave Junction always has been about caves. But today, when it comes to nature and family recreation, this Josephine County town has a lot more to offer.

Cave Junction always has been about caves. But today, when it comes to nature and family recreation, this Josephine County town has a lot more to offer.

The Rusk Ranch Nature Center, along the Illinois River, offers hiking, swimming, educational outdoor workshops, music, food and fun. It kicks off its summer season Saturday, June 25, with the opening of its newest attraction: a butterfly pavilion.

The pavilion will house examples of Josephine County's native butterflies, including the Western monarch, the majestic purple mourning cloak and the dazzling painted lady, which looks like an upgrade of the monarch. The pavilion offers families a chance to observe the entire butterfly lifestyle while learning about backyard butterfly gardening — that is, growing a garden that attracts butterflies.

"The monarch is a threatened species," says board director Patty Downing. "They rely on milkweed, and there's a lack of habitat around here, so hopefully the pavilion will help."

The nonprofit educational center stretches over 50 acres donated in 2007 by Wayne and Shirley Rusk.

"The Rusks didn't want the land to be developed and envisioned a nature center that would serve the community," says development and volunteer coordinator Emily Cole. "Our biggest benefit is that we can offer outdoor recreation to people in Southern Oregon who lack the opportunity to get outside."

The center is a haven for children, but adults will have a blast, too, says property manager and board member Doug Hargrove. "I enjoy being out here and feel like I'm accomplishing something. It's peaceful; you can hear the breeze and little animals scurrying through — things you miss out on in town."

The center joins a nucleus of nature-centered attractions around Cave Junction, such as Oregon Caves National Monument and, right across the highway, Great Cats World Park.

Last summer, the nature center held its first River Rush, a community celebration of music, theater and food. The tradition will continue this year Aug. 14 and is open to the public. This time, the ranch will host the Live Waters Music and Arts Camp, Aug. 11-14, which includes music and art instruction, camping and meals from their permaculture garden. The cost is on a sliding scale of $130 to $300, with work-trade available.

Volunteers from the National Civilian Community Corps, part of the AmeriCorps program, are stationed in Cave Junction, helping to build the butterfly pavilion, as well as an outdoor stage and cooking area for the Live Waters Music and Arts Camp.

The center has plans to expand into an even more interactive destination and has received grants from the Four Way Community Foundation which serves Josephine County and the Carpenter Foundation in Medford.

"We are working on restoring our wetlands and building turtle ponds," says Downing. "We are also aiming to have completed a natural playground made of wood structures and running water by next summer."

The butterfly pavilion marks the beginning of many summers full of outdoor leadership and interactive learning programs at the center, says Hargrove. "We are working with the schools to do field trips at low cost to get the kids out in nature hiking by the river. And hopefully it won't be just the younger kids. We want to get the high school involved, too."

Noting that Cave Junction used to be known as a logging town, Cole says she is awed by the natural beauty of the area.

"We are hoping the center will boost the Illinois Valley economy and draw visitors from all over who want a taste of nature," says Cole. "I'm thrilled to be part of a project that can offer beauty to everyone."

For more information or to register for the Live Waters Music and Arts Camp see or call 541-287-2164.

Hannah Darling is a freelance writer in Ashland. Contact her at