Madrones and oak trees line a trail in the forests of Jacksonville. [Mail Tribune/file photo]
Doug Hein of Jacksonville recently took his morning walk on the Rich Gulch Trail in the woods of Jacksonville. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]
A new book sheds light on a local gem, Jacksonville’s trail system in the woods.
“Jacksonville’s Emerald Necklace: From Goldmines to Woodland Trails” covers the development of a trail system that now includes 270 acres of land, 21 properties and 16 miles of trails that began in 1989. The just-released book recounts the efforts of community collaboration, volunteers, government agencies and non-profit organizations that resulted in the system.
Larry Smith, the book’s author, helped found the Jacksonville Woodlands Association in 1989 when he and a neighbor saw signs for sale on Beekman Woods properly and began an effort to preserve the 20-acre parcel. Smith served as the group’s executive director for 20 years until 2021 when the position was renamed director of development, a position he holds.
Smith could have chosen to just detail the efforts that led to raising $4.5 million to acquire the land, but he also touches on the stories that led to the creation of the system, starting with the discovering gold in Jacksonville in the 1850s and covering the city’s rises and declines over the next 170 years.
“I didn’t want it to read like a novel. It is a resource book. It’s a book where you’re going to find some very specific things,” Smith said. In doing so, he has created a book where individual chapters can be read for entertainment, edification, or both.
Two separate chapters deal with relationships with higher education institutions in the state of Oregon that held land that became part of the system. In both cases, the land was bequeathed to the institutions. The book details the not always easy negotiations that took place as institutions initially sought the highest possible monetary return by selling to developers.
The University of Oregon was eventually convinced to let the association secure Beekman Woods. Southern Oregon State College, now Southern Oregon University, owned the 80-acre Britt Woods, but it was also acquired. Both sites now include trails.
The Woodlands Association was formed with the idea that it would not hold land, so after acquisition the parcels were turned over to the city, Jackson County, or the Bureau of Land Management.
In one case, the association held a title deed for only 10 minutes. Verne Beebe donated the 10-acre Beebe Woods parcel to the group, which immediately relinquished the town.
Besides Smith’s writings, there are contributions that Smith solicited from people who had been involved in the addition to the forests.
Among the contributors is Brian Mulhollen, who in 1992, at the age of 11, convinced the city of Medford to sell a 10-acre quarry site in the western part of town for the same $1,040 as he paid in 1908. There are now three trails on the property below Jacksonville Cemetery.
Readers will also learn that the description of the “emerald necklace” comes from former councilwoman Joyce Coleman referring to the woods surrounding the town. Approximately 70% of the city center is surrounded by properties secured by the association.
Smith had wanted to write the book for 10 years. After raising funds in 2019, he approached professional writers, but none accepted. At the request of his wife, Linda, he started the business. When the pandemic hit, it gave her time to write.
Editing was done by Ginna Gordon of Luck Valley Press of Jacksonville, while David Gordon handled the layout. Jacksonville Woodlands Association is the publisher. The book has an index and an appendix with eight categories of information.
“I found out I’m not a writer, but if you have a good editor, they really make you look good,” Smith said. Although writing didn’t come easily to him, he found he was good at gathering information.
Another discovery was the science behind what miners did to forests as they worked on land that would later become part of the system. Eugene Hickman’s research on ecological impacts in the Rich Gulch region is included in one chapter.
Smith credits the late Robbie Collins, one of the key players in recognizing and preserving Jacksonville’s historic past, with having him write down what happened and keep records. Smith has 13 filing boxes full of forest materials
“Robbie said to me, ‘You gotta start writing this stuff,’ and I said, ‘I’ll never forget that,'” Smith recalled of their conversation 20 years ago. Now he finds he can’t always remember the details and appreciates the suggestion.
A total of $13,000 was raised to cover the cost of preparing and printing the book. This included a $6,000 donation from the Raymond Family Foundation. Printing the book in color increased the cost. It is soft bound with 418 pages. A total of 200 copies were printed. Profits are donated to the association.
Due to the size of the book, which includes 418 photos, drawings and maps, it is not offered for sale online. Copies cost $45 including postage, or $40 if arrangements are made to pick them up from Smith. He can be contacted by emailing [email protected]
The book can also be found in Jacksonville at The Happy Alpaca Toys and Supplies, Rebel Heart Books, and Art Presence.
Association and trail information is available at jvwoodlands.org.
Contact Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at [email protected]