Protecting the beautiful rivers, wild lands and legendary botanical diversity of Oregon's Kalmiopsis Country

Emily Camp, a private inholding in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness

Update and great news

This post was previously updated in May of 2014. We began updating it again in early 2018 because we learned that the 2017 Chetco Bar fire burned through the part of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness where Emily Camp is located and the cluster of small structures that had been helicoptered into the inholding sometime after 2007 had burned to the ground..

But the great news to celebrate came on November 30, 2018 when Wilderness Land Trust announced that, after years of work, they’d finally closed on the purchase of Emily Camp. Congratulations and thank you. After decades of legal battles, this wildest, most rugged river-rich congressionally protected wilderness area will soon become whole again.


Emily Camp is the name given to the only private inholding in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness by real estate developer David Rutan. Mr. Rutan had purchased the Little Chetco inholding from Carl Alleman in 2007 and was promoting Emily Camp as a rough mining camp using the business name of Oregon Gold Trips.[1]  After this and other promotions failed, he structured Emily Camp as an Oregon limited liability company. Click here to learn about Emily Camp, LLC.

When the attempt to sell shares in Emily Camp failed, Mr. Rutan listed the property with a realtor and then on Craigslist. These listings are no longer online but the asking price at the time was $599,000.00.

Below is a description of the inholding and the travesty of how federal public land in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness became private land in 1988 for $2.50 per acre using the 1872 Mining Law.

In the beginning it was Wilderness

What eventually became known as Emily Camp is actually the Little Chetco inholding. It’s located in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness on the Little Chetco River, a tributary of the National Wild and Scenic Chetco River. The wilderness is renowned for being the wildest, most rugged river-rich Wilderness Area in the United States. A little known fact is that the land that makes up the inholding had been congressionally protected Wilderness for 24 years before ir became private land. This was in 1988.

The mechanism used to acquire fee simple title to what originally were three federal mining claims is found in the patenting provision of the 1872 Mining Law. While the Little Chetco claims group existed prior to the area’s designation as Wilderness by Congress, it had not been determined that there was a valid existing right to mine the claims until the patent application was submitted to purchase them.

The price paid the federal government for this National Forest land was $2.50 per acre. In other words, the public’s precious Wilderness land—with a river running through it—became private land for approximately $150.00 24 years after Congress added the Kalmiopsis to the National Wilderness Preservation System.

The Little Chetco inholding (aka Emily Camp) has been most recently advertised for sale for $599,000. But the travesty didn’t stop with the transfer of land’s ownership—from public to private—for about the cost per acre of a MacDonald’s hamburger without the cheese.

Forest Service map showing area of patented Little Chetco claims—now known as Emily Camp—including the 14.88 acres where the federal government retained ownership of the surface estate.
Forest Service map showing area of patented Little Chetco claims—now known as Emily Camp—including the 14.88 acres where the federal government retained ownership of the surface estate.

When a courageous District Ranger tried to bring two decades of non-conforming use in the West Coast’s most rugged Wilderness under control, there was defiance, not compliance.  Not proficient in map reading, the Josephine County Commissioners were convinced by the owner of the now private property to pass a resolution saying the county owned the old user created mining track that ran through the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and down to the Little Chetco River. The intent of the road-grab was to open the Kalmiopsis to unrestricted public motorized travel, despite its Wilderness designation. However, the resolution didn’t have the desired effect because the route turned out to be entirely in Curry County.

Other schemes came and went—a resort, a mine and logging the inholding. However, one fact kept getting in the way. The property was surrounded by Wilderness and the Wilderness predated the private property.

The watershed of the Little Chetco River in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. The red dot is approximate location of Emily Camp.
Little Chetco River Watershed in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. The red dot shows approximate location of Emily Camp and its isolation, with no road access and iffy trail access. Google Earth Image.

In the late 1990’s/early 2000’s, there was a bit of peace. The attacks on the Wilderness became a thing of the past and a deal between the Forest Service and the original owner to purchase the property was almost completed. In anticipation of the purchase agreement going through and a show of good will, the owner relinquished his rights to 5 mining claims he held in the same area of Wilderness on the little Chetco.

Then the Biscuit Fire burned almost every live tree in the area. The Forest Service reneged on the agreement to purchase the inholding at the agreed on price. Soon a new owner arrived on the scene and tried to up the anti with his own brand of shenanigans.  See the Oregonian March 13, 2010. But this is all history, the big question is what to do now?

Emily Camp in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. USDA FS Photo
The 2002 Biscuit Fire burned hot across this part of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and the Little Chetco River Watershed. The Emily Camp inholding is clearly visible. (Forest Service photo).

The Emily Camp inholding can currently only be accessed by helicopter or an arduous hike in on foot and an even harder one out (it’s mostly uphill on the way out). The absence of overland motorized access is not likely to change given narrow a court ruling specific  to the area and when the inholding was established.Fire-killed trees continue to fall across the trails, which are maintained by volunteers.

While the 45 acres is surrounded by 179,000 acres of Wilderness, commercial activities are not allowed in Wilderness Areas, so the lands adjacent to the inholding can only be used for recreation. Activities like commercially guided trips or other similar activities requires a special use permit from the Forest Service and while the Little Chetco River runs through the property, we could find no water rights for the inholding.

Those interested in purchasing the Emily Camp inholding should examine access restrictions, court records, zoning. water rights and Wilderness rules and regulations. Hopefully, a buyer will come forward that will return the area to the Wilderness.

Here’s a few things to take into consideration:

  • The property is technically 45.1 acres, not 60 as stated originally in the listing, and there’s two public trail rights of way running through the inholding.

Explanation: The 1988 patent granting private ownership to the Little Chetco mining claims (now known as Emily Camp) was for 45.1 acres with surface and mineral estate. On the 14.88 acre balance, the federal government still owns the surface estate. In essence this 14.88 acres is still designated Wilderness and any activities on these National Forest Wilderness lands must comply with the Wilderness Act.

While the mineral estate on the 14.88 acres is in private ownership and could be mined, getting approval may prove difficult because of the Wilderness Act’s requirement that the surface estate be protected.

  • Subject to valid existing rights or emergencies, there is no motorized travel allowed in designated Wilderness Ares. The roads named in the real estate listing for Emily Camp are Wilderness “trails.”

Explanation: The original listing says “Emily Camp USFS Rd #1121 and 1131.” These are Forest Service Wilderness trail number. Trail #1131 intersects trail #1109 (Bailey Mountain Trail), which goes down to the Little Chetco River and meets trail #1121 (the Madstone Cabin Trail.)

The previous owner tried to get unlimited motorized access to the inholding but the District Court Judge didn’t agree any of his arguments. The federal government is required to provide reasonable access to private inholdings, including in Wilderness Areas if there’s a valid existing right. However, The Kalmiopsis Wilderness predates the Emily Camp inholding by 24 years so there was no established motorized access to private property when the Kalmiopsis was made Wilderness.

  •  Our search found no surface water rights with the property.
  • The current owner has been notified Curry County that he does not have the proper permits to conduct a commercial operation.   See this in depth Oregonian article. 
  • The federal government can only pay the fair market value for the inholding and that’s not likely to be $599,000. The fair market value also applies to land exchanges. See High Country News
Emily Camp on the Little Chetco River, Kalmiopsis Wilderness (USDA Forest Service photo0
Emily Camp on the Little Chetco River, Kalmiopsis Wilderness (USDA Forest Service photo0

A little Background—When the Kalmiopsis was first designated Wilderness in 1964, there was no private land in the Wilderness. There were lots of mining claims, however. Now after almost a half century, this rugged, ultra wild Wilderness is finally free of federal mining claims and all the threats to Wilderness integrity associated with them. It’s been a long long struggle for some of us, but the last three claims went rather painlessly in 2010 (after some harrowing previous years).

What happened in September of 2010, was that the Chetco River Mining and Exploration forfeited ~ 20 miles of federal mining claims, which covered almost half the length of the National Wild and Scenic Chetco River.

The mining claim on this part of the Chetco River was forfeited in 2010 (USDA FS Photo)
The mining claim on this part of the  Wild  Chetco River was forfeited in 2010 (USDA FS Photo)

Three of the claims were in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. We believe these to be the last of the federal mining claims in the Wilderness. In other words, they’re gone. Extinguished forever—at no cost to the taxpayer—because the mining company rather than paying the minimal maintenance fee, used the small miner exemption, when their claim holdings did not meet the criteria for the exemption.

How Wilderness became private property — Because valid mining claims (remember the word “valid”) on National Forest and BLM lands constitute a property right, any withdrawal of lands from operation of the 1872 Mining Law is “subject to valid existing rights.” When the Kalmiopsis Wild Area became congressionally designated Wilderness in 1964, it was withdrawn from the mining law in the legislation .” This then required the submission of a mining plan and a “valid existing rights determination” before any mining activities could occur on existing mining claims.

Mining claims holders had long been using the remote Kalmiopsis Wilderness to live out their version of the wild west. Claim holders grew pot, had stills, held road hunting parties for friends, bulldozed the old mining tracks at will and sold claims as vacation spots. One man even started to clear a strip to land airplanes. You can still see the scars of this.  Another (the year before wilderness designation) miner bulldozed about 15 miles of road and began mining along the crystal clear wild Chetco River, causing it to run red for days. This was the general setting for the granting of an application to purchase the three Little Chetco mining claims under the patenting provision of the 1872 Mining Law.

A valid existing rights determination (VER) was done. The claims were found valid and as such the claim holder was allowed to purchase the land encompassed by them in 1988 for the 1872 price of $2.50 per acre. Title to the land was granted, subject to the restrictions discussed above, and that’s how 45 acres in the heart of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness because private property 24 years after the area had been designated Wilderness with no private property. This is why we have what’s known as Emily Camp with an asking price of $599,000.

There were a lot of mistakes made. The patent for the surface estate should never have been granted for any of the land and the mineral exam would never pass muster today. The task now is to see there are no more mistakes and for the Kalmiopsis Wilderness to be made whole again.


[1] Dave Rutan’s Oregon Gold Trips website has disappeared from the web and the domain name is for sale. Here’s a general mention in USA Today. This 2010 investigative report in the Oregonian— Developer lays claims to more than gold in Oregon Wilderness—provides excellent background.

It states: 

He acquired Camp Emily, 45 acres of private ground whittled out of the national forest, also in 2007. He installed three cabins and a dining hall to handle up to 20 people, including customers coming to mine for gold in the adjacent Little Chetco River. Now, Rutan is peddling ownership in the camp.

[2] These listings are no longer on the web.





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