The Rough and Ready Creek area is home to the highest concentration of rare plants in Oregon. It’s flood plain is thought to be unique in the world, as well as being botanically rich. It’s lower reach is an undeveloped oasis amidst civilization and a cherished community open space and outdoor classroom.
It’s backcountry is a remote and fascinating wild area. Rough and Ready Creek flows out of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and through the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area. It widens into great sweeping bends and multiple braided stream channels as it nears civilization and spreads out onto a unique and ancient flood plain.
There is nothing conventional or ordinary about Rough and Ready Creek. It’s desert-like in appearance but can receive as much as 100 to 160 inches of precipitation annually. The dwarfed and gnarled pine and cedar of its open forests are shaped by conditions adverse to less resolute individuals. The Jeffrey pine savannas are perhaps the last refuge of native bunch grasses on the West Coast. Rare plant wetlands dot its uplands and streambanks. The rarest of wildflower grow out of seemingly solid rock or in profusion from lichen and most encrusted boulder fields. It is an ancient landscape where the evolutionary processes of life have gone unbroken for millennia.
According the the U.S. Forest Service Rough and Ready Creek’s watershed “epitomizes serpentine/peridotite geology” and its this geology that has shaped this unique creek and its rare and diverse plant communities. Trying to understand its mysteries strains the limits of our knowledge. It strains understanding why this much loved wild creek is not now permanently protected.
In 1999, Senator Ron Wyden wrote to President Bill Clinton asking for help to protect five special areas in Oregon. Rough and Ready Creek and surrounding South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area lands is the one of the five areas not now permanently protected through legislation. Read Senator Wyden’s letter to President Clinton. Congressman Peter DeFazio began advocating for Rough and Ready Creek’s protection in 1998 when it was threatened by the proposed Nicore Nickel Mine.
The two federal agencies that manage the approximately 23,000 acres of National Forest and BLM lands in Rough and Ready Creek’s watershed write about the area with the highest praise. Here’s what the BLM’s Management Plan for the Rough and Ready Creek Area of Critical Environmental Concern  says:
“Rough and Ready Creek presents a unique fluvial system characterized by exceptional water quality and clarity, very flashy flows, an unusual braided stream channel and a broad relatively undisturbed [floodplain] of cobbles which may support an extensive hyporheic zone with rare or sensitive invertebrates” (USDI BLM, 1998).
“The [Rough and Ready Creek] ACEC provides a unique open space and scenic natural area with unusual charter in the Illinois Valley Basin. The undeveloped landscape stands out on the valley floor where most of the lowlands have been [developed]” (USDI BLM, 1998).
“The botanically rich and colorful understories below the widely spaced, often stunted pines has attracted visitors to the site for years and motivated the citizens of the Illinois Valley and Oregon State Parks to establish the original botanical wayside” (USDI BLM, 1998)
The U.S. Forest Service, in the Nicore Mine Record of Decision , concludes that “the waters of Rough and Ready Creek are exceptionally clear and remain clear during winter storms that turn other creeks muddy.” Based on these and other factors the agency found Rough and Ready Creek eligible to be added to the National Wild and Scenic River System.. The Forest Service describes it as “an area of incredible natural values” and having “extremely high scientific, social and ecological values.”
The Wild and Scenic River Eligibility , presence of listed and sensitive species, proximity to Wilderness, unroaded areas and remarkable water quality are unique attributes of the [Rough and Ready Creek] area.”
In the U.S. Forest Service Wild and Scenic River Eligibility Study  it notes that:
“The geology, lack of disturbance, opportunities for solitude, botanical resources, water quality, and stream channel morphology of [Rough and Ready Creek] were thought to be unique.”
Turn off the Redwood Highway about 10 minutes south of Cave Junction at the Rough and Ready Creek State Botanical Wayside, From here you can walk out onto the Rough and Ready Creek Area of Critical Environmental Concern, through the Forest Service’s Rough and Ready Creek Botanical Area and lose yourself in the wilds of South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area and adjacent Kalmiopsis Wilderness. Except for a finger of private lands, it’s all National Forest or BLM-managed lands.
Rough and Ready Creek is eligible to become a National Wild and Scenic River and much of its watershed was recommended as the South Kalmiopsis Wilderness Addition in 2004 by Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman. In 2013, with Baldface Creek, Rough and Ready Creek was named one of America’s ten most endangered rivers,
Learn more about Rough and Ready Creek, the nickel strip mine that threatens it and the grassroots effort to defeat the mine and permanently protect the watershed at Kalmiopsis Rivers.
Special designations at Rough and Ready Creek
- The Bureau of Land Management’s Rough and Ready Creek Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) (1,164.2 acres) ;
- The Forest Service Rough and Ready Creek Botanical Area (1,499 acres);
- The State of Oregon’s Rough and Ready Creek Botanical Wayside (approximately 11 acres); and
- The Nature Conservancy’s Rough and Ready Creek Preserve (approximate 100 acres).
- The South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area.
- The Kalmiopsis Wilderness.
Rough and Ready Creek spills out from between two between two broad peneplains onto a vast relatively undisturbed floodplain. The tracings of ancient river beds can be seen using on Google earth.
USDI Bureau of Land Management Management Plan for the Rough and Ready Creek Area of Critical Environmental Concern, 1998, Medford District of the BLM.
USDA. Forest Service Nicore Mining Plan of Operations Final Environmental Impact Statement Record of Decision, R6-11-077-99, Siskiyou National Forest, Pacific Northwest Region, 1999.
USDA Forest Service, Wild and Scenic River Eligibility Study for Rough and Ready Creek and Its Tributaries, Siskiyou National Forest, May 1993.