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Springing back: SOLC spring hikes return

The Southern Oregon Land Conservancy is bringing back its spring series of free public hikes
Mail Tribune/Jamie Lusch Kristi Mergenthaler, left, and Eva Thiemann use flags to mark the location of the federally endangered Cook's lomatium in the Agate Desert Reserve in White City Thursday. The area is among those that will be explored during SOLC's spring hike series.
Courtesy photo Pompadour Bluff, located just outside of Ashland, will be featured during the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy's spring hike series..

A storied Southern Oregon stewardship group is relaunching its popular spring hike series by highlighting a string of its newest land holdings in Jackson County.

After a two-year COVID hiatus, the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy is bringing back its spring series of free public hikes with eyes and ears toward Pompadour Bluff east of Ashland as well as three preserves recently transferred to SOLC ownership.

Pompadour Bluff is known on SOLC rolls as the Harry and Marilyn Fisher Preserve after the couple who donated the land to the conservancy. It includes the majestic Pompadour Bluff, jagged outcroppings that highlight the Ashland viewscape and are home to myriad wild birds and plants.

Also new are the Whetsone Savanna Preserve, the Rogue Plains Reserve and the Agate Desert Preserve, former holdings of The Nature Conservancy that were recently transferred to SOLC.

The new holdings highlight this spring’s hike series, which begins April 10 and runs through June 18.

We are showcasing some of our new preserves as well as some of our old favorite hikes,“ says Kristi Megenthaler, SOLC stewardship director.

“Our goal is to connect people to place, the gorgeous natural world, as well as the common and uncommon plants and animals of our region,” Mergenthaler says.

And that includes continuing some of the stalwart wildflower and historical hikes that have anchored the SOLC spring series since its expansion a decade ago.

Those include walks on the conservancy’s Rogue River Preserve near Dodge Bridge boat ramp along the Rogue just off Highway 234.

Along with guided hikes, the conservancy is opening the land to personal walkabouts during two Open Lands Days scheduled for April 16 and June 18.

The preserve is normally closed to the general public other than for scheduled events, in order to keep its natural habitat intact. But the open days allow for public exploring on a limited basis.

“People can wander around and appreciate the beauty unguided, but those same days are optional guided hikes,” Megenthaler says.

“It’s open for exploration without someone interpreting everything for you,” she says. “They’re really lovely events.“

Preregistration is required for the hikes, including the open lands days. For more information and to register, see www.landconserve.org/events or call at 541-482-3069.

The Whetsone Savanna Preserve is a rare, 144-acre site that includes groves of Oregon white oaks that have largely been extirpated from their traditional Western Oregon range.

The Rogue Plains Preserve consists of a conservation easement on 125 acres of private land that includes vernal pools.

Along with the 170-acre Agate Desert Preserve, these holdings all pockmark the gravelly outwash plain on the Rogue Valley floor along or near the Rogue. They are home to threatened vernal pool fairy shrimp and two federally endangered plants — lemon yellow Cook’s desert parsley and showy white large-flowered meadowfoam.

SOLV began its 2020 spring hike series just as COVID-19 broke out throughout the United States, and the series was scrubbed before its June conclusion.

No hikes were planned last spring, but a short fall series was offered late last year.

“We are, needless to say, thrilled to have them back,” Mergenthaler says.

Hike schedule

Vernal Pools of Whetstone Savanna, Sunday, April 10, 9 a.m. to noon. A 1.5-mile stroll exploring the biologically rich mounded prairie and vernal pool communities. Highlights will include seeing federally listed endangered Cook’s desert parsley and large-flowered meadowfoam plants in bloom, many other spring wildflowers and observing abundant bird life.

Open Lands Day at the Rogue River Preserve with two hike options, Saturday, April 16, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Participants will explore the Preserve’s trails on their own, or join experts for a guided interpretive hike.

Hike option 1, Wildflowers, runs from 10 a.m. to noon. The Rogue River Preserve will be used as an outdoor laboratory to learn about botany for this excursion.

Hike option 2, Plants & People, will run from 1 to 2 p.m. The walk will focus on plants and ethnobotany, including how the plants adapt to the preserve’s unique environment and how animals, Native Americans and early settlers depend on them for food, medicine, shelter and tools.

Vernal Pool Flower Power at Whetstone Savanna Preserve, Saturday, April 30, from 9 a.m. to noon. Participants will learn about some of the flowers found in vernal pool habitats.

Explore the Bluff at The Harry & Marilyn Fisher Preserve at Pompadour Bluff, Wednesdays, May 4, 11 and 18, from 3 to 5 p.m. Participants will hike Pompadour Bluff just outside of Ashland. Walk through oaks and grasslands to the top to take in the views of the valley and beyond.

Jacksonville Woodlands History Tour, Saturday, May 7, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Southern Oregon University research archaeologist Chelsea Rose will lead a three-hour hike around the woodlands and share her expertise on the mining history of Jacksonville.

Petals & Feathers at Pompadour Bluff, Sunday, May 8, 9 a.m. to noon. Bird biologist Frank Lospalluto and SOLC botanist Kristi Mergenthaler will lead hikers on an exploration of the bluff with a special focus on birds and flowers.

Geologic Discoveries at Pompadour Bluff, Saturday, May 28, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Professor of geology Dr. Jad D'Allura will take participants on an a hike to explore the geology of Pompadour Bluff.

Family Open Lands Day at the Rogue River Preserve with two hike options, Saturday, June 18, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Hike option 1: Reptiles, 10 a.m. to noon. Dr. Michael Parker, Southern Oregon University professor of biology, will lead participants on a two-mile exploration of the preserve to search out resident reptiles.

Hike option 2: Butterflies, 1 to 3:30 pm. Led by naturalist Linda Kappen, participants will learn how to carefully catch butterflies with nets and identify them.

Preregistration is required for the hikes. For more information and to register, see www.landconserve.org/events or call at 541-482-3069.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or email him at mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com.