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State grant will help area arboretum bloom

WILLIAMS

-- An effort to establish a regional botanical garden and arboretum here has received a financial boost in the form of a $23,540 grant from the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department.

The funding is for preliminary planning, site inventory and outreach work, according to a department spokeswoman.

Ray and Peg Prag, founders of the Forestfarm nursery in Williams 25 years ago, are spearheading the effort to build the nonprofit Pacifica Botanic Garden on 422 acres at 14615 Water Gap Road. They are members of the board governing the project.

The site was once owned by rock musician Steve Miller and later by former Josephine County Commissioner Rebecca Brown.

When the land became available early last spring, the board began working to acquire the property, priced at $925,000. Most of the money is coming from an anonymous donor who lives in Palo Alto, Calif., said a board spokesman.

The property includes several ponds, two dwellings, a barn and the sound studio used by Miller.

Earlier this year, the Prags met with representatives of the Hoyt Arboretum in Portland and with botanists from the University of Washington, the University of California-Berkeley, University of California-Santa Cruz and the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. The scientists were asked for suggestions pertaining to the proposed Pacifica garden.

The group also plans to work closely with managers of local federal lands as Rogue Community College, Southern Oregon University and Oregon Institute of Technology along with high schools in Jackson and Josephine counties.

In addition to providing classes, long-term plans call for providing nursery plants that will be sold to the public.

When completed, Pacifica will provide 50 family-wage jobs in the gardens, nursery facilities, plant propagation laboratories, educational facility and arboretum, a spokesman said.

The grant money comes from Old Growth Diversification Funds made possible from an annual grant from the Forest Service. The money is used to help rural communities with economic development projects.

The Oregon Economic Development Department invests lottery, federal and other funds to help rural communities throughout the state.