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Jacksonville property gains protection with easement agreement

JACKSONVILLE — A new conservation easement will ensure preservation of a 6-acre natural woodland that includes a public trail and endangered flower.

The Southern Oregon Land Conservancy and the city of Jacksonville finalized an agreement in October with the Jacksonville Woodlands Association paying for the easement on The Grove, a property that once acted as a tent city for new arrivals in the 1850s.

"If anything was done there that would alter what the conditions are, then both parties would have to agree to it," said Larry Smith, executive director of the Woodlands Association, which has created eight miles of connecting interpretive and recreational trails surrounding the city. "If it's sold, the conservation easement must go with it."

In 2006, with private donations and a grant from the Trust for Public Lands, the property was transferred to the city for use as open space. The grant was awarded to help protect the Gentner's fritillary, which is on the endangered species list. A trail through the property connects the Beekman Loop trail to the east with a trail leading to Beebe Woods further west.

Brush-cutting, trail-building, displays and general maintenance are allowed under easement terms, said Smith.

"It's not like someone could buy it and put a home on it or restrict public access," said Diane Garcia, executive director of the conservancy. "The purpose is to ensure that in the future the land is always going to be saved. It's sort of like a double layer of protection."

Purchase of land to add to the city's cemetery in October highlighted the role of conservation easements.

The City Council briefly discussed selling part of a 10-acre area with a conservation easement the includes the Quarry Trail just west of the cemetery. Sale of a tax lot within the site was considered as one way to pay for a 12-acre parcel just north of the cemetery that was purchased from Cris Galpin.

"They cannot sell off one tax lot," said Garcia, explaining terms of the agreement, which was established in May 2009.

The council is now looking at other ways to finance the $100,000 purchase, Mayor Bruce Garrett said.

Land conservancy representatives monitor the properties with their owners annually to ensure that terms of the agreements are being upheld, said Garcia. A portion of the easement fee is endowed to provide for the reviews.

"The Woodlands Association has paid for 100 percent of the easements," said Smith. "It's the people from Jacksonville and surrounding areas that have paid tor these easements. They've raised $40,000 to $50,000."

Conservation easements between the city and the conservancy cover 129 acres in six parcels. Easements on other parcels with trails also will be sought, said Smith.

The Grove trail begins off Third Street between Maple and Sterling streets. Interpretive signs at the trailhead tell of a California family that lived on the site temporarily in 1906 and explain the area's natural features. Cornelius Beekman, the town's first banker, once owned the area.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.