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DIY on the Rocks

Botanist Molly Allen walked the trails at Upper and Lower Table Rocks this week agog at the carpets of fawn lilies, and she wishes she could share them in person with other wildflower lovers who generally flock to her annual guided spring hikes.

“They’re absolutely beautiful right now,” says Allen, BLM’s environmental education specialist for the agency’s Medford District.

But you’ll have to discover them on your own this spring, albeit with help from some new interpretive signs. BLM and The Nature Conservancy are adding a new twist to their popular spring hikes at the Rogue Valley’s signature mesas.

For the second straight year COVID-19 restrictions have thrown a wrench into the hike series, but this time organizers will replace the guided hikes with a DIY alternative. Signs that detail the flora, fauna, history and other unique aspects of the Table Rocks have been installed, along with information about how people continue to interact with them.

Molly Allen and Tabitha Olsonof the federal Bureau of Land Management place new temporary interpretive signs along Upper Table Rock Trail as part of a self-guided hike to replace spring guided interpretive hikes derailed at the Table Rocks due to COVID-19.Photo courtesy of the BLM

About a dozen signs have been added to each trail that highlight some of the aspects of the rocks, the trail and other features that have been topics of individual guided hikes by volunteers for decades.

For years, Allen and fellow botanists at the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest have led wildflower hikes at the Table Rocks, sharing their passions for native flora — some of which is not found anywhere else in the world.

But the signs will have to pinch-hit for the Real McCoy this spring to meet COVID-19 social-distancing policies, Allen says.

The popular trails are narrow and lined with poison oak, making it difficult for groups of people to stay 6 feet apart from each other.

Last year, the COVID-restrictions led to a full closure of the trails from early March to mid-June.

This year, interpretive signs detailing what hikers may be viewing are the next best alternative in the socially distanced world.

“It’s hard not to be out there talking with people about the Table Rocks,” Allen says. “It’s one of the most favorite parts of my job. But we want people to have a new option so they can still learn about the cool parts of the Table Rocks.”

Each month, different topics will be highlighted.

For April, poetry and geology will be the focal points, Allen says.

April is National Poetry Month, and local poets historically have led hikes during which they have read Table Rocks-inspired poems. This year, past poem-hike leaders and other poets have entered works that will be rotated over the month.

Also in April, the geology of the rocks will be chronicled, as well.

Geologists believe the two rocks, named upper and lower based on their upstream and downstream position along the Rogue River, are the last traces of a vast lava flow 7 million years ago from Olson Mountain, an extinct shield volcano just east of what his now Lost Creek Lake.

Geologists believe the vast majority of the flows eroded, leaving only the two horseshoe-shaped plateaus.

May will highlight bees and other pollinators in the region, as well as wildflowers and birds.

For those looking for the popular ukulele hikes, it’s BYO-Uke and strum on your own.

Rangers will be on the trails occasionally to interact with people, pass out interpretive literature and enforce the no-dogs rules to protect the sensitive environment that includes several endangered plants, such as the dwarf woolly meadowfoam.

The BLM and TNC also are in the process of putting together an interactive smartphone application called “Agents of Discovery” for kids to download from the BLM later this spring.

It contains missions and challenges to encourage kids to interact with the rocks, including quizzes on what eats acorns there, and wildflowers they can photograph with their phone.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.