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Vandals shoot up lighted sign advertising Callahan's Lodge

ASHLAND ' Vandals Sunday shot at least two dozen holes through the Callahan's Lodge sign near Mount Ashland, and the lodge owner believes eco-terrorists were the triggermen.

Residents of Callahan's small recreational vehicle park near the Siskiyou Summit heard one or more people fire several bullets through the 85-foot-high, 504-square-foot fabric sign before a vehicle sped away about 9:30 p.m., lodge owner Ron Bergquist said. The gunman or gunmen returned a short time later, peppering the sign a second time before again fleeing, he said.

The sign has been the subject of community debate over whether its size and placement cast a pall over the Siskiyou Mountains panorama. Bergquist said Monday he believes environmental people who objected to our sign were behind the vandalism.

We have a long list of suspects ' all those people who wrote nasty letters, Bergquist said. I don't know who else it would be. It's terrorism.

But environmental groups said Monday that Callahan's lighted sign may cast a glow over Interstate 5, but it's not even on their radar screen.

Joseph Vaile, a biologist and campaign coordinator for the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, said the debate over the sign is about aesthetics and not relevant to the center's biology-centered issues.

If the Callahan's sign was the biggest thing environmental groups needed to worry about in Southern Oregon, then we'd have solved a lot of real problems here, Vaile said. There's a lot bigger fish to fry.

The Jackson County Sheriff's Department was investigating the case Monday, Lt. Dewey Patten said. An estimated &

36;1,000 damage was done to the sign, which was valued at &

36;100,000 when it was erected last summer.

There was no suspect information nor information about the type of weapon used Monday, Patten said.

The lighted fabric sign, and a larger billboard that preceded it, have drawn the ire of Ashland-area residents for allegedly putting a blemish on the area's views and potentially causing traffic hazards along I-5. Bergquist, who bought the lodge in 1996, has scoffed at those notions and insists the sign is a legal and reasonable way of luring business.

Sunday's bullets knocked out the Vacancy sign but missed the main light ballasts, so the sign remained illuminated, Bergquist said. This was the first time the sign has been shot at, he said.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail