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DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER: The Real-Life Game of Risk

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Don't Shoot the MessengerBernie Sanders is fond of pointing out that the wealth divide in America is doing more that perhaps any other issue to pull apart this country. While likely true, it is, however, not a novel problem. At the end of last century—the 19th, that is, the one that increasingly was organized around the gravitational pull of families like Rockefeller and Forbes—politicians also were warning about too much in the hands of too few, a concern that gave rise to the populist movement, and a hefty push for labor unions, public parks, and public libraries (thanks, somewhat ironically to Andrew Carnegie).  

In Oregon, that effort to preserve the public good over private privilege played out like a giant game of Risk, as logging companies and other private enterprises tried to land-grab as much and as quickly as possible. In turn, railroads, primarily constructed to move commerce, opened up once far-flung locales like southern Oregon and the Oregon coast. Falling into step, by the 1880s, the Oregon State Land Board, began parceling out stretches of the coast and well-heeled resorts popped up from Astoria to Rockaway. By 1901, some ten percent of the Oregon coast had been sold to private owners.

But the populist movement had strong appeal in Oregon and, in 1911, when Oswald West swept into the governor’s office, he did so in a large part from his pledge to reclaim Oregon’s coast for the public interest—a promise he kept by setting in place Oregon’s beach highway law which declared the entire length of the Pacific coastline to high tide to be a public highway, and thereby, protecting the views and land from privation, a law that was more famously protected by Gov. Tom McCall in 1967.  (West also was a great champion and defenders of the voter initiative system, as a means to keep power in the hands of the public and not just elected officials; thanks Os!)

Point being: If not for the efforts and interest a century ago, the Oregon coast would look very different—and perhaps a lot more like Santa Monica, with private homes crowding out public beaches.

A century later, these lessons are critical to consider.

Currently, the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy (SOLC) is attempting to raise $3.5 million to purchase a coveted 350 acres of land that sits along a long stretch of the Rogue River. The plot of land is about a dozen miles north of Medford. Last purchased in 1943 by Robert Ruhl, a Pulitzer-prize winning publisher of the Medford Mail Tribune, the land is a critical puzzle piece in the preservation of the region and protection of the river. Ruhl’s daughter is now 93 years old, and the large tract of land has been held by her family for decades—and left largely untouched and unbroken by development.

Much in the spirit of how the Oregon coast was and is preserved, SOLC was created forty years ago “to ensure the natural wealth of the wild and working lands of the Rogue River region endure forever.” Since then, they have helped set aside 10,000 acres for the public good, but the so-called Rogue River Preserve would be their largest acquisition. In early March, Actor Patrick Duffy, who is best known for his role as Bobby Ewing in “Dallas” and now lives in the Rogue Valley, stepped in to provide celebrity power and profile to the campaign.

But the campaign to raise the funds—and, ultimately, purchase the property—is far from a sure-thing.

You know what to do: Visit their website. Donate money. Preserve the region for future generations.

On May 21, SOLC will host a tour of the property.


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