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  • Exploring the Rogue Valley

    Exploring the Rogue Valley provides a lesson in understanding beauty
  • Do you know where to find a carnivorous Darlingtonia fen or a stand of rare Baker cypress trees? Can you tell the difference between an acorn woodpecker and Clark's nutcracker? Are you itching to spot the rare Gentner's fritillary in Jacksonville Woodlands or identify fairy shrimp in a vernal pool on the Table Rocks?
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    • More places to learn about the Southern Oregon ...
      North Mountain Park Nature Center in Ashland hosts annual events Rogue Valley Earth Day, the Bear Creek Salmon Festival and Rogue Valley Bird Day. It also has community gardens and sponsors numerou...
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      More places to learn about the Southern Oregon outdoors
      North Mountain Park Nature Center in Ashland hosts annual events Rogue Valley Earth Day, the Bear Creek Salmon Festival and Rogue Valley Bird Day. It also has community gardens and sponsors numerous educational activities. See www.NorthMountainPark.org or call 541-488-6606. The Nature Center is located at 620 N. Mountain Ave., Ashland.

      • Coyote Trails School of Nature is based in the Jefferson Nature Center on Bear Creek at U.S. Cellular Community Park in Medford. The organization serves young people and aids teachers in activities such as fire making, shelter building, tracking and spawning salmon. See www.coyotetrails.org for details and class schedules.
      • The Rogue Valley chapter of the Audubon Society makes it easy for beginners to learn about the local bird world. The group offers regular bird walks open to anyone, and sponsors activities such as the annual Christmas Bird Count and a birdathon fundraiser. See www.roguevalleyaudubon.org to learn more. In Josephine County, call the Siskiyou Audubon Society at 541-955-8966 or see https://sites.google.com/site/siskiyouaudubon.
      • The Rogue Group of the Oregon Chapter Sierra Club meets at 5:30 p.m. the second Monday of each month in the Guanajuato Room at the Ashland library, 410 Siskiyou Blvd. It sponsors hikes, including backpacking trips. See http://oregon.sierraclub.org/groups/rogue/outings/. Other local groups that lead hikes include the Siskiyou Mountain Club (www.siskiyoumountainclub.org), Applegate Trails Association (www.applegatetrails.org) and KS Wild (http://kswild.org/).
      • The Klamath Bird Observatory, based in Ashland, is known for its award-winning conservation science projects, but it also sponsors regular bird outings in conjunction with Wild Birds Unlimited in Medford and Northwest Nature Shop in Ashland, as well as a Mountain Bird Festival (held this year from May 30 to June 1), and various education projects. Call 541-201-0866 or see www.klamathbird.org.
      • The Southern Oregon Land Conservancy works cooperatively with landowners and communities to save our region's special places for generations to come, but it also leads hikes to spots of significance, such as wildflower walks in the Jacksonville Woodlands, among others. To learn about upcoming offerings, see www.landconserve.org/hikes.
      • The Native Plant Society of Oregon's Siskiyou Chapter visits wild places to study and conserve natural vegetation, such as a hike coming up on Saturday, May 10, to see rare Baker cypress trees at Flounce Rock. Many of its walks are open to anyone, and the group organizes talks on various topics, such as one held earlier this week on oak apples, honeydew ambrosia galls and witches' brooms. See www.npsoregon.org/aboutnpso.html.
      • Wild Birds Unlimited, 712 Crater Lake Ave., Medford (541-770-1104, http://medford.wbu.com), and Northwest Nature Shop, 154 Oak St., Ashland (541-482-3241, www.northwestnatureshop.com) are private businesses that host bird walks and other educational events. Northwest Nature Shop, for instance, hosts wildflower walks, mushroom walks and other events, such as a walk coming up on Saturday, April 26, to identify trees in Lithia Park, and a talk by noted hiking author William Sullivan on Sunday, April 27.
      • In the winter, the Southern Oregon Nordic Club leads regular ski outings, occasional snowshoe trips, and lessons for beginners, all for free. See http://southernonc.tripod.com.
  • Do you know where to find a carnivorous Darlingtonia fen or a stand of rare Baker cypress trees? Can you tell the difference between an acorn woodpecker and Clark's nutcracker? Are you itching to spot the rare Gentner's fritillary in Jacksonville Woodlands or identify fairy shrimp in a vernal pool on the Table Rocks?
    There are groups and clubs in Southern Oregon willing to show you all of these things and more, and quite often for free.
    "In our area there are so many incredibly unique things in the outdoor world," says Daniel Newberry, executive director of the Siskiyou Field Institute, a nature school near Selma. "It's possible to live here and not know the treasures in your own backyard."
    Your local library and the Internet are good sources of information, of course, but when it comes to the outdoors in this little pocket of the world called Southern Oregon, there's nothing like getting up close and personal with people who know what they're talking about. And a host of local groups — stocked to the gills with botanists, geologists, biologists and wilderness aficionados of all stripes — can make that happen.
    Many of these groups — the Rogue Valley chapters of the Audubon Society and Sierra Club, say — are either familiar or have a mission that's obvious from their names. Others, such as the Siskiyou Field Institute and Coyote School of Nature, are probably less familiar to many folks in Jackson County.
    SFI's mission, for instance, is to introduce people to the Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion through classes in the field.
    SFI's Deer Creek Center, which it co-owns with Southern Oregon University, is near Selma in Josephine County at the gateway to the Illinois River canyon on the site of a historic ranch once frequented by actor John Wayne, who kept a horse here.
    The site is perfect for SFI's mission. It sits on the northern tip of one of the world's largest contiguous sheets of serpentine. The soils are low in many nutrients and high in heavy metals.
    "The Klamath and Siskiyou mountains have some of the most complex geology of anyplace in the country," says Newberry, a hydrologist by training. "Millions of years of tectonic plate movements and folding have created a unique landscape, particularly in serpentine geology."
    The Siskiyou and Marble mountains and Trinity Alps are all part of what geographers refer to as the Klamath Mountains, which are flanked by the much younger and volcanic Cascades to the east and the coast ranges to the west.
    "Plants here have adapted to this in ways plants elsewhere haven't done," Newberry says. "You have a lot of things here you don't have elsewhere."
    Such as Jeffrey pine savannas, serpentine barrens and the Darlingtonia californica, a carnivorous oddity also known as the cobra plant or pitcher plant, a thick patch of which lies a short stroll from Newberry's office, "mouths" agape for any unwary bugs that stray too near.
    "And on top of that you have animals, insects and amphibians you only find here," he says.
    There are two federally designated botanical areas within a few miles of the station. Year-round creeks provide habitat for coho salmon, fall chinook, Pacific lamprey, winter steelhead, cutthroat trout, redside shiner, speckled dace, suckerfish and sculpin.
    The land borders a Bureau of Land Management Area of Critical Environmental Concern and the Squaw Mountain Inventoried Roadless Area. No fewer than four wilderness areas await within a couple of hours: the Kalmiopsis, Siskiyou, Red Buttes and Wild Rogue.
    Each year, SFI offers a slate of outdoors classes that range from bats, birds and bugs to trees, plants, mushrooms, river ecology and wilderness first-responder training.
    The classes are aimed at various college groups, including Southern Oregon University's master's program in environmental education, staffers from federal agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, as well as adult lifelong learners and more than 1,000 schoolchildren.
    Classes range from basic botanizing to such unique entries as birding at sea, birding on bicycles, a course on seaweed and the botany and butterflies of Mount Eddy, the Siskiyou peak west of Mount Shasta.
    A popular class introduced last year is a rafting trip in which rafters stop at the sites where dams have been removed from the Rogue River and at the restoration efforts underway where Bear Creek flows into the Rogue.
    Other classes take aim at oak woodlands, shorebirds, lichens, ferns, truffles, redwoods, grasses, medicinal plants, fire ecology, dunes, insects, fire ecology, salmon, dragonflies, rocks, fungi — well, you get the idea.
    Camping, dorm rooms and private rooms are available in connection with classes, along with a hostel-style kitchen, pavilion and indoor classroom on the grounds.
    "If people get out and hike and see plants and animals, they're going to do their best to make sure those things are there for the future," Newberry says. "I think education is the way to get people the tools they need to make the proper decisions. If you see a Darlingtonia fen, are you going to advocate for a housing development there? You want your grandkids to see it."
    Class fees run from $35 to about $250, though some programs are free, and some scholarships may be available. SFI encourages students to register at least two weeks in advance, but earlier is better, either online or by calling 541-597-8530. Many of the classes last several days and involve travel. Lodging at the Deer Creek Center ranges from $8 (tents) to $12 (yurt) to $18 (dorms). To check on the availability of private rooms, call 541-597-8530.
    For a complete calendar of events, see www.thesfi.org.
    Reach freelance writer Bill Varble at varble.bill@gmail.com.
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