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Rich Gulch and Petard Ditch Loop trails will engage your mind and your muscles

You and your kids can engage muscle and mind as you weave from one short trail to the next in the Jacksonville Woodlands. Look for new trails as well as giant madrones, hillsides blasted away by hydraulic gold mining and a profusion of wildflowers, including Gentner's fritillary, a rare plant that favors these woodlands.

For a comprehensive five-mile tour of the Rich Gulch and Petard Ditch Loop trails, cross Highway 238 to Britt Gardens and follow Jackson Creek along the one-mile Sarah Zigler Trail. A few hundred yards from the trailhead, a brand new trail veers to Britt Ridge and the top of Britt Gardens. For now, continue to a bridge over Jackson Creek and an alternate trailhead.

Re-cross the creek on a second bridge and climb the steep, short Jackson Forks Trail. At a sharp turn in the trail, stay right on the new Jane Naverson Trail, which ends at a trail junction. Our route heads directly south (straight) on the Alternate Rich Gulch trail.

Need a rest? These trails are littered with benches. Need a diversion for the kids? Interpretive placards in Rich Gulch guide your eye through 160 years of human and natural history.

At the next intersection, near a fenced-in glory hole from the Depression era, turn right then left for a counterclockwise one-mile tour on a trail named after French miner Auguste Petard, who built a home in Rich Gulch in the early 20th century, where he mined and grew grapes. If the day is particularly warm, you can reverse this loop for a shady climb and a sunny descent.

The 400-foot climb to an open woodland of white oak, madrone and wildflowers offers dramatic views of a ravine that miners blasted into Rich Gulch from 1860 to 1940. The path soon drops through deep shade then levels high above Jackson Creek. A side trail dips to the creek.

As you return to Rich Gulch, stay right on the Rich Gulch Trail, which turns into a wide gravel path. Pass the Chinese Diggings trail on the right with connections to Hill Street and a quiet loop trail around Beebe Woods.

Continue downhill toward Oregon Street, and look for two trails on the left. The first trail is brand-new and due for completion in fall. It heads into the manmade ravine you have been skirting and comes out at the top of an old reservoir. Plans are in the works to install hydraulic mining equipment in the ravine. The second left-hand trail circles the ravine and ends at the top of the reservoir. Before following the Rich Gulch Trail north to the top of Fir Street, take a few minutes to climb to Panorama Point for a view of Roxy Ann and Mount McLoughlin.

At the Fir Street trailhead, turn on the Britt Ridge Trail and make a quick right to return to your start on the Sarah Zigler Trail.

Dogs on leashes are welcome throughout the trail system. Owners should bring plastic sacks to haul out waste.

For trail updates and a brand-new trail map, consult the Jacksonville Trails Association Web site: www.jvwoodlands.org. Maps and literature are also available at the Chamber of Commerce and at major trailheads.

Mary Beth Lee is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail her at gentlejourneys@ashlandhome.net.