Daily Constitutional #1: Jacksonville Woodlands, Rich Gulch

Although it’s not a great photo, this place, the Jacksonville Woodlands, is my favorite place to hike. It’s a rink of privately-acquired (though publicly accessible) woods surrounding the historic town of Jacksonville, Oregon, where part of my family is from.

I wrote up my favorite hike there as a sample for a column I was planning to try with the Medford Mail Tribune. Since I’ve accepted the job in Eugene with a large independent video game developer and publisher, I won’t be writing it for them. Hopefully, someone else will. As for me, I think, when the mood takes me, I’ll just do it here. Consider this the first installment of my “Daily Constitutional.”

Daily Constitutional #1

If you spend too much time in front of the TV, as I have done lately, your impression of fitness will wind up pretty skewed. According to the square oracle, the only way a person like you or I can get fit is to purchase something, usually something large and expensive, and then spend either hours a day on it or, less convincingly, minutes. But most doctors agree that you can grab great health gains from a simple activity that the overwhelming majority of us know how to do, even if we do it too seldom: walking.

When I say walking, I don’t mean hiking, even less snowshoeing or mountain climbing. A good walk of half and hour to an hour each day can result in weight loss, lowering of blood pressure, reduction of stress and strengthening of muscles. So, my plan is to put my feet where my mouth is (without actually putting my foot in my mouth, though no promises there). I’ll give you a nice, simple, easily-accessible walk to do somewhere in the area each day. If you take the walk, chime in on our online forums and tell us what you thought. If you have a walk to suggest, write me and let me know.

The Jacksonville Woodlands. Rich Gulch Trail. Two Miles Round Trip. Moderate

Over the past 17 years the Jacksonville Woodlands Association has secured and maintained 20 pieces of land surrounding the town of Jacksonville. They’ve created low-impact trails, trail maps (available for a buck at trailheads) and even in some places put in interpretive signage.

The Rich Gulch trail is one of my favorites. When I go to Jville, I drive up Highway 99, take a left on Old Stage Road, jog right on Griffin Creek and left back onto Stage, then come into town on California Street. At the far end of town, take a left on Oregon Street, an immediate right on Pine, an immediate left again on First, then another right after the Britt Festival grounds. Park in the lot at the trailhead.

From the trailhead at the map box, head out across the flat land through a widely-spaced oak forest, keeping to the left of the old water tank. Eventually, you’ll work your way up the slope, birdsong usually your only companion. Walk on, along the side of a little pine valley. As you come up to Rich Gulch itself, the site of a great deal of the gold mining that put Jacksonville on the map, you will see an area gated off with waist-high metal fencing. That’s one of the sinkholes created when local residents returned to gold mining during the depths of the Great Depression. The hole, ten feet wide and twice as deep, yields an unexpected occupant, the body of an old car.

Twelve interpretive signs will give you interesting information on the mining history of the area.

Walk a few feet further on and look down to the right. That’s Petard Ditch, that carried water for mining from Jackson Creek, hand dug by the miners. Now look to the left. There’s a ridge there and if you walk up to it, you’ll see it was the retaining wall for the small reservoir in front of it. There, the water would be stored, allowing pressure to build up. In the summer time (after the main gold mining died out) it was used as a swimming hole by local kids.

Across the further ridge you’ll see the main diggings. Here the water, whose pressure had built up in the reservoir, was loosed in soil-stripping gushes through great hoses, washing the dirt of the sides of the gulch and into the “long Tom” and other sluicing boxes to separate the gold.

Mining changed the area. It created fascinating, and in some cases even beautiful, effects, though it took its toll as well. The land is not the same as it was before the gold rush.

From the diggings, you can head back the same way your came, or take your pick of further walks. The half-mile Frenchman Mine Loop will take you up over the valley where many early French pioneers lived, ranched and, yes, made wines from the vineyards they planted, long before Rogue Valley wines had won any awards. In the other direction, the 1.5 Petard Ditch Loop will take you to Jackson Creek.

Walking is man’s best medicine. –Hippocrates, Greek physician, 5th century B.C.

[We’re going over to do the Petard Ditch Trail tomorrow. Perhaps I’ll write that up and ask S. to take a decent photo. Once back in Eugene, I’ll do Mt. Pisgah, my favorite place to walk in that area.]

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