Photo by Eric Alan.

“Do what’s right for the land.” It’s an ethos that the people who have lived at Cerro Gordo have taken to heart. Today, thanks to their foresight and dedication, glimmering Willamette Valley prairie, healthy oak and conifer forest, and a prominent rocky butte near Cottage Grove are all protected for conservation. However, it hasn’t been an easy or straightforward path.

In 1974 a visionary group of people led by the late Chris Canfield bought 1,165 acres of forests and meadows above Dorena Lake with the goal of creating a village in harmony with nature. While the original plan never fully materialized, a dedicated core remained committed to conserving this special place.

The Cerro Gordo Land Conservancy, led by board members Jim Stevenson (president), Don Nordin, Eric Alan, and Suzanne Huebner-Sannes, is now proud to celebrate a conservation easement in partnership with the McKenzie River Trust on 531 acres of this land adjacent to Dorena Lake.

Cerro Gordo as seen from across Dorena Lake near Cottage Grove. The prominent rocky butte is now permanently protected for conservation. Photo by MRT staff.

A Different Tool

“We see land conservation and restoration as the primary goal,” says Eric Alan, resident and Conservancy board member. “This easement keeps with the initial vision of Cerro Gordo, and yet it’s a completely different tool than was envisioned in the beginning.”

Cerro Gordo boasts a stunning diversity of habitat types and plant communities throughout its landscape. The property has exceptional native grass diversity and several notable populations of rare and threatened plants, including shaggy horkelia, timwort, tall bugbane, Roemer’s fescue and yellow monkeyflower.

“Every acre is really different,” says Scott Ferguson of Trout Mountain Forestry, who has been working with the people of Cerro Gordo to manage the working forests since 1986. “The quality of the prairies is significant and the conifer habitat is really diverse, too.”

In 2012 a Healthy Forests Reserve Program conservation easement was secured on another 447 acres of Cerro Gordo forestland through the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Together, these easements comprise nearly 1,000 acres of contiguous, protected habitat. “It’s a pretty substantial bit of conservation in a key part of the southern Willamette Valley,” Alan says.

Cerro Gordo Land Conservancy members Mary Addams, Shirley Froyd, Suzanne Huebner-Sannes, Charlie Sannes, Eric Alan, Jim Stevenson, Greta Loeffelbein, and Don Nordin. Photo by Eric Alan.

Unique People and a Unique Place

“The property is amazing, but the human element is probably the most unique part of this project,” says Ferguson. “Cerro Gordo Land Conservancy members are on-site stewards. In my work I haven’t met anyone with a more profound connection to place than the people behind Cerro Gordo.”

The Cerro Gordo Land Conservancy looks forward to engaging the community on this special land in the future. They can be reached at P.O. Box 192, Cottage Grove, OR 97424.

This project was funded by a grant from Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Bonneville Power Administration’s Willamette Wildlife Mitigation Program. Key partners in this conservation success include Cerro Gordo Land Conservancy, the Cerro Gordo landowners, Trout Mountain Forestry and members of the McKenzie River Trust.