The Siskiyou Field Institute.

Can you imagine taking a class about “Birding at Sea”, and suddenly having your boat surrounded by a group of humpback whales? This is what happened for Karen Phillips, a big fan of the Siskiyou Field Institute, during one of the classes provided by this local non-profit. Karen is currently the Development Director for the Maslow Project in Medford (another great non-profit) Karen says: “I’ve had many wonderful experiences in Siskiyou Field Institute classes over the years: exploring a hillside Darlingtonia fen (I had to look that up too) and learning about the ancient plants that live there, standing atop Big Red Mountain and starting to understand some of the geology of the Siskiyou Crest, discovering the intricacies of a wildflower through a microscope…”

We really are so fortunate here in the Rogue Valley to have such close proximity to the Cascade and Siskiyou Mountains. The Cascade–Siskiyou National Monument includes the mountains you see all around us in the Rogue Valley but especially east and south. They are noted for their significant botanical diversity. The range of elevations and diversity of habitat means that we have over 300 plants growing here that are literally found nowhere else on the planet! The mountains are weathered into red soils and slippery green rock outcrops called serpentine. This is a place of wild rivers brawling through stunning canyons and amazing trees. (I know, I sound like Chef Ramsey.)

(Cardamine nuttallii var. gemmata. Photo by Norman Jensen, Photo·grafica botanii.)

SFI flowerI know much of this because of a dear friend who has dedicated most of her adult life to the biology of this region. Taking a hike with my friend Kristi Mergenthaler can be a fantastic, if somewhat overwhelming, education for someone like me who is a destination hiker. I like to hike to get  somewhere, see something cool, then hike back. But when one hikes with Kristi, or one of the many other instructors that volunteer their time for SFI, you find yourself looking at our environment with completely new eyes. Did you know that lichens are actually a form of fungus?

So for those people who are into the experience of the hike itself instead of the destination, taking classes from the Siskiyou Field Institute might be just up your alley. (Although considering there are barely any roads, I guess there aren’t any alleys)

The Siskiyou Field Institute provides educational classes for both adults and children. For adults you can take bird watching classes in Gold Beach, learn about the Flora of the Lava beds in Tulelake, identify the mushrooms of SW Oregon or gain a new appreciation of the colorful world of lichens. A number of youth programs are also offered. Many of them include overnight stays in a yurt at the Siskiyou Field Institute headquarters located near Selma. Whether learning about songbirds, mammals, the watershed, or just general botany, these youth education classes are a fantastic resource for educating our valley’s youth in the natural sciences in a fun way. SFI wants all the local kids (urban, rural, rich and poor) to understand that they live in one of the most biologically special places in the world. Over the past year, they have taught over 2,000 kids from over 18 different schools at their site in Selma. They also teach in schools throughout the region, and on wilderness backpacking trips.

“Whether you’re new to the area or just want to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for this beautiful region we live in, I’d highly recommend taking a class with Siskiyou Field Institute!”Karen Phillips

There are a number of ways to get involved and help this fantastic non-profit. Memberships in the SFI are as low as $50 per individual and $80 for a family. In addition to helping keep this program up and running, memberships get you 10% off course tuition and SFI merchandise.

Siskiyou Field Institute can be reached at 541-597-8530 or emailed at For more information on their classes, the catalogue can be viewed and downloaded from their website.

TEN Realty Group is proud to name the Siskiyou Field Institute as their Charity of the Month for December 2015.