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Purchase ends private ownership of the Table Rocks

The Nature Conservancy has purchased roughly 1,710 acres of private land on Lower and Upper Table Rocks for $3.9 million from the Wood Family Trust.

The purchase guarantees the cultural and natural landmarks will remain available to the public, said Russell Hoeflich, the nonprofit group's state director.

"We are grateful to the Wood family for their stewardship of this land over the years," he said. "They made much of it accessible to the public and cooperated with scientific research and management.

"Now the mantle passes to the conservancy and our public partners to maintain this natural gem as a treasure for future generations to study and appreciate," he added.

The Wood family owns and operates the Rogue River Ranch off Table Rock Road in Sams Valley.

The acquisition includes about two-thirds of Upper Table Rock equaling about a square mile along with about half a square mile on the northeast slope of the rock. The slope has an oak savannah and concrete bunkers used by soldiers training at Camp White during World War II. The purchase also includes a smaller parcel on the east flank of Lower Table Rock.

The Conservancy, which first bought land on the Table Rocks 30 years ago to preserve the area, now owns land or conservation easements totaling 3,591 acres while the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has 1,280 acres.

With the purchase, none of the land on the Table Rocks remains in private hands.

The price was determined by a fair market value appraisal, according to Conservancy spokesman Stephen Anderson in Portland. The group took out a loan to purchase the property and will repay it with funds raised by public and private sources, he said.

The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board has earmarked $1.3 million for the purchase, using Oregon Lottery revenues dedicated to restoring and protecting important natural areas in the state, Anderson said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is providing a half-million-dollar grant for the acquisition. The agency has designated 892 acres of the land being purchased as critical habitat for the fairy shrimp, a threatened species that inhabits vernal pools.

Other grants and gifts are being received from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and from local resident Diana Gardener, whose mother, Harriet Gardener, was fond of the Table Rocks.

The Conservancy's long-term goal with the newly acquired property is to transfer it to a public agency to have it managed as a public-private partnership, Anderson said.

"We haven't determined which agency it will be — we're still looking at options," he said.

An official announcement of the purchase is expected on Thursday.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.