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A new acquisition for Southern Oregon: Pompadour Bluff

Morgan Rothborne / Mail TribuneThe view of the valley from the top of Pompadour Bluff at Southern Oregon Land Conservancy's new acquisition, The Harry and Marilyn Fisher Preserve at Pompadour Bluff.

When the Tudor-style home of Harry and Marilyn Fischer was burned down by Fire District 5 in a training exercise Saturday, it helped clear the land on the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy’s newest property acquisition.

The SOLC has begun but not yet finished ecological surveys of the land, which has been named the Harry & Marilyn Fisher Preserve at Pompadour Bluff.

Surveys of the property off Dead Indian Memorial Road in Ashland have revealed rare wildflowers, savanna oak forests with individual trees estimated to be 100 years old. Unique lichen and mosses have thrived on the property.

Harry Fisher died in 2020 at age 90, outliving his wife Marilyn by over a decade. Fischer deeded his home and property to the SOLC in his will. The organization took possession of the property in 2021.

Deer, elk, a variety of birds from songbirds to raptors, and many rattlesnakes live on or migrate through the 55 acres of this property. When the nature conservancy first explored the house, which came down in a Burn to Learn exercise, rattlesnakes came out of the walls.

“The house needed a lot of repairs,” said Steve Wise, Executive Director of the SOLC. “It was in the condition you’d expect, for someone living alone in it in their 90s”.

The SOLC considered the housing shortage carefully against their own mission; the conservation of land, for everyone, forever.

If they allowed someone to live in the house, the hiking trail would go past the back of the house. The conservancy worried about the occupant of the house, the possibility of a house party coinciding with tours of school children.

For the SOLC, their work is always the balance of the human love of nature, and the need to conserve nature, without the dangers human interference causes.

Wise explained once they weighed everything the house could be against their mission statement, the decision “was kind of clear,” Wise said.

The house had to go. How best to remove the house became the question. The SOLC board began to discuss, what if they burned it down?

The board decided this was the cleanest solution. The SOLC contacted Fire District 5and asked if they’d like to burn it down. Fire District 5 was grateful for the opportunity said Fire District 5 Chief Charles Hanley.

Allowing Harry Fischer’s house to go up in flames became an opportunity for a worn old house to perform one piece of community service — training the next generation of firefighters. In light of the fires of 2020, the SOLC was confident they made the right choice.

“This is the biggest show we’ll ever have here.” Wise said of the Burn to Learn.

Throughout the destructive training exercise, Wise watched as the ravens nesting near the house reacted to the fire trucks, the beeping radios, and the smoke.

After the day of destruction, the SOLC can begin what Wise calls Phase Two of the organization’s plans for the land. They have already begun to consult designers and staff about what to do with the lot where the house once stood.

The plans are castles in the sky for now, as there is still too much work left to do for firm projections, but the current idea is a small parking lot to allow disabled visitors better access to the hiking trail and a small sheltered area with a picnic space.

That kind of construction will serve the SOLC’s vision for the land, property that has been what Wise calls an object of public fascination for the last 45 years.

“There are two stories,” Wise said. “Either people say, ‘I’ve always wanted to go there,’ or ‘Oh yeah, I used to sneak up there, back in the old days, until the old dude chased me off.”

Throughout tMay, the SOLC will begin their first series of guided hikes on the land, with an eye toward balancing public fascination and the need to protect the variety of unique species living on it. To achieve this balance, hikes will be limited in frequency and number of hikers.

The SOLC’s hikes have grown in popularity. Wise advises registering as soon as the hikes become available, as they often fill quickly. The first hike for the Harry & Marilyn Fisher Preserve at Pompadour Bluff will be on May 4, registration opens at 6 a.m. and there are only 15 spots.

Registration and hiking information can be found on the conservancy’s website, landconserve.org.

Because Fischer outlived his wife and had remaining to him only one daughter – in memory care due to a car accident – the SOLC was forced to perform the function normally left to a family. They cleaned out his house after he had passed on.

Inside they found his resume, which lists jobs from Boston to California, and evidence of interests in golf, horses, and landscaping. They also found Civil War memorabilia, and a love for whiskey and cigars.

“There’s a rumor he hung out with Steve Jobs, but that’s just a rumor,” Wise said, describing the information about Harry’s life that he’s collected from Harry’s neighbors and his possessions.

“Somebody told us a story that he was advised, if he kept living down there like that it was going to be a short life, he’d better find a more healthy lifestyle, that’s what drove him up here.”

Fischer took the advice and bought the 55 acres on Pompadour Bluff. In 1976 he built the house that burned down on Saturday.

Now that Harry Fischer has enjoyed and lived out his private life on Pompadour bluff, his final act in life ensures the land will become a place where the natural beauty of Southern Oregon can be preserved for the plants and animals that live there, and for the people who love its peaceful beauty.

For more information

For more information about the unique ecology of the preserve at Pompadour bluff, and how those who wish to can support its conservation, visit landconserve.org/news/2021/10/11//introducing-the-harry-and-marilyn-fisher-preserve-at-pompadour-bluff

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at mrothborne@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne