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Donors lining up to fund Rogue preserve

EAGLE POINT — The group looking to buy and preserve a 352-acre ranch along the upper Rogue River made a leap forward recently with a $250,000 private donation, putting the fundraising more than halfway toward its goal with less than a half-year to go.

Southern Oregon Land Conservancy has raised almost $2 million of its $3.5 million target to buy the MacArthur Ranch and turn it into the Rogue River Preserve along the west side of the river just upstream from Dodge Bridge.

The latest boost came through the Earth and Humanities Foundation of Raymond James Charitable Endowment Fund, says Diane Garcia, SOLC's executive director. The donor wishes to remain anonymous, Garcia says.

The conservancy also has pending federal grants and one pitch to a private foundation each for $500,000, both of which could come through in September, three months before the conservancy's purchase option sunsets Dec. 31.

"If we get those other two grants out there, it would be huge for us," Garcia says.

The MacArthur family, descendants of former Mail Tribune publisher Robert Ruhl, has accepted SOLC's $2.4 million offer to buy the ranch, which was appraised at $3 million, as long as the conservancy raises the money by the end of December.

The $3.5 million fundraising target would cover the land's purchase and pay for some improvements, as well as create an endowment that would fund protection and enhancement of its myriad unique natural features in perpetuity.

Headed by former "Dallas" television actor Patrick Duffy, who lives across the Rogue from the planned preserve, the so-called "Heart of the Rogue" campaign has run the gamut, from $1.38 million in Oregon Lottery profits from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board to small groups and one-on-one pitches.

"House parties, talking at Rotarys, meeting donors and small-group hikes are all ways we're working on our potential donor list," Garcia says.

SOLC is awaiting word on a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after receiving a favorable local review to get it moving forward, Garcia says.

Another $75,000 grant from a different fish and wildlife service program also is pending, Garcia says.

To date, 28 percent of the grants have come from independent and corporate giving, with 72 percent from state and federal agencies and private foundations, Garcia says.

Also, a contractor has been hired to canvass the upper Rogue with posters and rack cards to publicize the effort, Garcia says. SOLC's other $500,000 proposal is a finalist for a grant from the Doris Duke Foundation, she says.

"We're trying to elevate awareness of the project throughout the whole area," she says.

The property is a mosaic of the different types of habitat that once dominated the upper Rogue River Basin but largely have given way over time to cleared cattle pastures, ranchettes and dream homes.

The lands near Upper River Road contain chaparral and buck brush that help draw black-tailed deer and Roosevelt elk. Vernal pools dot the landscape in spring and become meadows later in the year sprinkled with natural springs, extremely rare white fairy poppy plants and surprisingly few invasive Himalayan blackberries.

Much of the ranch is unblemished by non-native vegetation, but even some of the invasive plants that are present are losing ground naturally.

The property's brightest gem is its mature oak woodlands that form the second-largest intact riparian forest along 100 miles of the Rogue. The only larger one is the publicly owned and primarily unreachable oak woodlands around the old Gold Ray Dam impoundment.

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