For the future of the forest
John Jones' longtime dedication to Camp Myrtlewood results in WRLT's first conservation easement
John Jones’ boots grip into the soil as he hikes along a winding trail from his small homestead in the Oregon foothills to the forested area of Camp Myrtlewood. He stops every few minutes to point out plants and trees along the path. “Do you see that over there?” John gestures to a decaying tree rising from the forest floor. “That is a deliberately-made standing snag.” “They are very conducive to wildlife. Do you see the holes in it? Woodpeckers eat the bugs from these dead trees, and songbirds come to nest in them.” John points to a group of fallen logs along the forest floor. “We thinned out about one-third of the trees so the others can grow faster and become bigger,” he explains. “The idea is to help the stand become healthier with less competition – and to allow other plants like these evergreen huckleberries, maples, hazelnut, tan oaks and other vegetation to come in and make the forest more diverse.”
This particular stand of trees was planted with Douglas-fir in the 1960s. But new life is sprouting today, largely due to active forest management by John, recently retired director of Camp Myrtlewood, and Wild Rivers Land Trust’s conservation director Jerry Becker. John has spent more than 30-years immersing himself in this landscape, learning and teaching others about the ecology, restoring habitat, and working with the 160 acres of land.
Some landscapes found on the Camp Myrtlewood property are part of a “no-touch zone.” These areas contain many species of trees with multiple types of brush covering the forest floor. “In the no-touch zones, there is no need to plant new trees or cut down trees. It is already a very healthy diverse forest,” John says.Life At Camp Myrtlewood
Those who visit Camp Myrtlewood can hike along a variety of trails, take in scenic vistas, breathe in the deep scents of the evergreen forest, spot wildlife and meander along banks of the stream. Springtime sunshine sprouts colorful wildflowers. Swimming holes cool off campers during the summer, and in late fall a variety of mushrooms pop up from the moist, fertile soil. John says the natural setting at Camp Myrtlewood taught him a lot about the environment, and himself, during his 30-years as camp director. He and his wife Margaret raised two children on the property.
In 1994, 11-years in to his career as camp director, John felt unclear about his future, and began a spiritual journey to seek clarity. “One of the things that came to my mind was that I really needed to protect the camp’s land,” he says. “I had developed a relationship with the land. I felt close to it and responsible for it. I made up my mind something had to happen.” “I knew whatever I ended up doing I wanted the camp protected, and I wanted something down in writing about how to take care of it.”
During the next 20-years John never lost sight of his goal. He met WRLT’s Jerry Becker in 1999. “John has a great understanding of the value of a forest for human renewal and inspiration. He knows there is a connection between healthy forests and healthy people,” Jerry says.
In the early 2000s, John and Jerry began a baseline study collecting and analyzing data on every acre of the property, ultimately creating an eco-forestry plan. “Jerry and I became friends with the common ground of looking at Camp Myrtlewood carefully and deciding what we had, and what should be protected and how we might start protecting it,” John says.Creating an easement
Over the next decade, John spearheaded creek and forest restoration projects. He also embarked on a long fundraising process, including selling his prized-Volkswagen bus for the cause. John was finally able to see his goal for a conservation easement come to fruition on Sept. 30, 2015. The conservation easement at Camp Myrtlewood was carefully crafted between Wild Rivers Land Trust, John Jones and the religious nonprofit corporation Pacific-Northwest District Church of the Brethren. A conservation easement is a legal binding document that outlines how to take care of the land. It has specific guidelines on caregiving, and must be followed by the current and future landowners. “It becomes an attachment right with the deed. Anybody who buys the land, no matter who it is, must respect it legally,” John says. “That’s where the long-term protective status of the land trust comes in. We made an agreement with the land trust to make sure the easement is honored.”Back to Nature
Camp Myrtlewood is currently owned by the Church of the Brethren, and serves as a children’s camp and adult retreat. More than 2,000 visitors come to the camp every year from a variety of religious and non-religious groups. “I believe that our society today is suffering a lot - particularly kids - but you can see it in adults as well, from what I call nature deficit disorder. That’s when we are so involved in our gizmos – our computers, cell phones and those kinds of things,” John says. “No matter who you are, you still have the need to be in nature. To be balanced, to be well, you need to be in relationship with nature. It’s something that can really bring us together.”Exploring our wild landscapes
Wild Rivers Land Trust’s service area, stretching from the Coquille River in Bandon to the California Border, from the uplands to the sea, provides a wild and rugged landscape teeming with one-of-a-kind plants, animals and geology. Our service area has the highest concentration of wilderness areas anywhere in the state of Oregon, and the highest concentration of wild and scenic rivers of anywhere in the nation. The rugged, precipitous terrain supports some of the most productive fisheries in the lower 48 states. Our South Coast watersheds are not only the nursery for a variety of fish species, they also serve as critical habitat for birds and wildlife. “We have such a diversity of habitats,” says Wild Rivers Land Trust board member Jan Hodder. “We have estuaries and rivers that are totally different from each other. There’s the incredible shoreline and coastal area, and really diverse offshore habitats. Also, the Siskiyou Mountains have a really
unique geology in our southern area.”
Throughout the year, WRLT will be exploring the variety of ways our Wild Rivers communities and landscape stands out. Check back to this page in the next few months to learn more!