From Gold Mines to Woodlands Trails

In this National Recreation Trail Highlight from the Sarah Zigler Interpretive Trail in Oregon, find out the history of the Jacksonville Woodlands Association and how they get hundreds of kids out on the trail every year.

In this National Recreation Trail highlight from the Sarah Zigler Interpretive Trail in Oregon, find out the history of the Jacksonville Woodlands Association and how they get hundreds of kids out on the trail every year.

by Larry Smith


In 1989, alarmed by the prospect of housing developments destroying the scenic wooded hillsides surrounding their National Historic Landmark City, the citizens of Jacksonville, OR rallied to form the non-profit Jacksonville Woodlands Association. Since then the Woodlands Association has preserved 21 parcels of forested open space (300 acres) and has constructed 16 miles of connecting interpretive and recreational trails surrounding 70% of the town's historic district.

The Jacksonville Woodlands Association's preservation efforts have attracted national attention and have set the standard for community land protection in Oregon. Their work with local schools has earned several national awards and generated several hundred news articles and TV news programs. The Jacksonville Woodlands are managed by volunteers, with management decisions made by an appointed board of directors in cooperation with the two major land owners: the BLM and the City of Jacksonville.

This historic turn of events in the history of land preservation in Oregon started in September of 1989 when a large for sale sign appeared on a 20-acre parcel of historic native woodlands that had remained undeveloped right in the heart of Jacksonville for over 150 years. Neighbors soon learned that the wooded parcel was owned by the University of Oregon, located way up north in Eugene. The university had gained ownership of the property through the estate of C.C. Beekman, an 1854 pioneer of Jacksonville and the founder of Oregon’s first bank.

In an effort to preserve the property through a public purchase, the Jacksonville Woodlands Association was formed in November. Since Jacksonville was under a state-mandated building moratorium due to a lack of sewer capacity, the Beekman property appraised at only $126,000. The University accepted the Association’s offer and within four years, through an accelerated fundraising effort, the purchase was completed. And the land title was handed over to the City of Jacksonville with an overlying conservation easement, guaranteeing a second level of protection. Most of the Jacksonville Woodlands properties are being doubly protected by conservation easements held by the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy.

At this point the Association planned to quietly go out of business. After all, they had preserved 20 acres of prime parkland in the heart of the town’s National Historic Landmark District. As the last payment was being made on the Beekman Woods, Southern Oregon College (now University) decided to place their 80-acre Peter Britt Estate, located in the SW corner of Jacksonville, on the market.

Similar to Banker Beekman, Peter Britt was also one of Jacksonville’s earliest pioneers. Peter Britt founded the Rogue Valley’s fruit and wine industry, was an accomplished photographer, and played an important role in establishing Jacksonville as an early trading center for Southern Oregon. Britt’s unmarried children willed his estate to Southern Oregon College upon their deaths. After holding onto the property for 35 years the college put the land up for sale.

With generous community support and several state and federal grants, the $140,000 asking price was raised to purchase the 80-acre Britt Woods.

As the Association was raising the funds for the Britt Woods’ purchase, there developed a plan to surround the whole town with an emerald necklace of woodlands and while at it, include a network of hiking trails?

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) offered to include three adjacent parcels, totaling 70 acres, into the project. The three BLM parcels were long abandoned historic goldmines. The old goldmines added an educational element to saving the woodlands.

The project was now gathering steam with a three-pronged approach: preservation, education/interpretation and with the new trails under construction – recreation.

The BLM was approached about buying two more adjacent parcels totaling 33 acres. They responded with, “We do not buy land inside of a city, but for you we will.” And they did.

Additional Oregon state lottery money, community contributions, land donations, and federal Land and Water Grants have added another 14 parcels to the Jacksonville Woodlands. Each addition has a wonderful story of how they came into public ownership. For more detail go to: jvwoodlands.org

It has been 30 years since that fateful for sale sign appeared on the Beekman Woods. Over the years 21 parcels of historic woodlands have been preserved. There is now an emerald necklace surrounding 70% of Jacksonville’s National Historic Landmark District, preserving for all-time the city’s historic scenic backdrop. Sixteen miles of trails wander among historic goldmines and ancient oak woodlands. Over 2,000 people use the trails each month, even during the winter. The trails have become an economic boost to a town that is dependent on tourist visitation.

Forest Park

Located only two miles west of downtown is Jacksonville’s 1100-acre Forest Park, the park contains a web of over 40 miles of trails. Half the trails are in cool creek beds, and half of the trails are on open oak hillsides. Three streams come together within the park to form Jackson Creek, which flows through the center of Jacksonville. These stream-formed canyons provide for cool shady trails that are favorites in the warm summer months. Other trails from the bottom of the canyons climb to intervening ridges and provide spectacular views. The view shed encompasses the Siskiyou Mountains, the Upper Bear Creek Valley, and the Cascade Crest as far as the Three Sisters in Central Oregon.

Maps are available at Forest Park kiosks that clearly show trail routes, parking areas, and descriptions of the trails. The trails range from an easy 5% grade, to 5% to 12% moderate grade, and to difficult at 12% to 20% grade.

Forest Park has a selection of measured trail loops that start and finish at the same parking area. Hikes of different distances are available and these loops are laid out to access various features found in Forest Park. The loops are marked with colored diamonds, and each parking kiosk has loop map cards available to carry while hiking the loop.

Without a doubt the conserving of Jacksonville’s historic woodlands is the most successful, all-volunteer, small-town, land preservation project in Oregon. No other city in the state with a population of less than 3,000 has available to the public 1,400 acres of protected woodlands along with 55 miles of hiking trails. And because of these highly successful projects, Jacksonville has become the Hiking Capital of Oregon!

Published April 03, 2020

About the Author

Larry Smith was a founding board member of the Jacksonville Woodlands Association, and has served as vice president and president. Currently he is serving as the (volunteer) Executive Director.

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