Whenever the time comes that I’ve had enough of town life, I automatically start thinking about heading one direction, up into the mountains and towards the Green Springs. Within fifteen minutes of departing Ashland you begin the ascent up the Green Springs Highway. It’s a road to take your time on, to slow down and reflect.
You wind higher and higher with each curve. On any freezing fog day in the Rogue Valley “bowl,” you can almost be guaranteed that you will encounter glorious sunlight as you climb. Then into the silent and green forest you head. It might be raining, snowing, or simply calm. The weather changes constantly. One thing for sure is that the air is fresh and silence will surround you.
As you cross the summit you can either go for a hike on the Pacific Crest Trail or head on towards the Green Springs Inn.
The Inn is like a little oasis in the forest——a meeting place for the community of the Green Springs and visitors to gather, share a drink or enjoy a bite of breakfast. It’s the “go to” place you stop in at when passing though the neighborhood.
Now, I won’t say more and risk giving away the secret of how lovely this place really is. I want to take another angle with this article, to acknowledge Diarmuid McGuire Pam Marsh and their entire family for all the hard work, effort and vision that has gone into creating such a lovely forested retreat.
I tend to notice this stuff. If you’re self employed, you look at things a bit differently. You do the math, count the hours and ponder the behind the scenes mechanics of how it all works. You realize that, to pull something like this off, these folks must be doing something right
I wanted to take you behind the scenes with me so that you could learn a little more about the vision behind this thriving micro economy in the forest. From the running and managing of a restaurant, the hosting of marriages and all types of special event, to the Inn and five vacation cabins.
Diarmuid, thank you for talking with us today. We would love to hear more about your story and how your Green Springs Inn project came to be. Will you start by sharing a little of the vision behind the Green Springs Inn, it’s cabins, restaurant and stewardship of the forest?
Diarmuid: Thanks for asking, Shields. To summarize, we’re aiming to do two things. First, we’re trying to protect and restore a small piece of a great forest. We own a 150-acre parcel that was previously Boise Cascade property. By creating an economy on that property, we hope to save it from being logged again. A few human lifetimes down the road, we hope it will be what it was 100 years ago——a magnificent forest of eight-foot-diameter sugar pines and Douglas firs and cedars.
Our other goal is to give people an opportunity to experience this forest and, in fact, to help us save it. By being our guests and eating in our restaurant and sleeping in our cabins, people can in effect adopt trees that would otherwise become forest products.
Shields: I just saw Sunset Magazine recognized the work that you and your family are doing up there.
Diarmuid: We’re really excited about what we’re doing. Actually the most powerful incentive that we have is the response that we get from people who come visit us and look around. They are often very enthusiastic and that re-energizes us every time.
Shields: The guest log-books in the cabin are really amazing. People write about how blown away they are and how they are coming back and telling their friends. By the way, I understand that you built all the cabins yourselves.
Diarmuid: Well, we started off thinking about how we could build something here with the smallest possible carbon footprint. We thought about various construction technologies, like straw bale, but we ended up deciding to use dead and dying timber off the property. This may seem contradictory because one of our objectives is to save trees. But all lumber is not created equal. The two by four that you buy in Oregon these days come from a tree that was cut down in British Columbia. That wood travels thousand of miles to a sawmill and a finishing mill and a distribution center and a lumberyard before it reaches your construction site. We figured that we could save all that travel, all that fuel, by milling material on site and building cabins out of it.
We are going on from there to solar panels and wind power and various other energy efficient technologies. But using resources right here in front of us is the foundation of our approach.
Then Paddy and I sat down to figure out what a really efficient cabin would like. A big part of the solution is staying small. Our property is zoned FR or Forest Resource. We are permitted to build seasonal hunting and fishing cabins, which are limited to 600 square feet of interior floor space. We didn’t want more than that. So our typical cabin has a living area, a small kitchen, a bathroom, private bedroom and a loft for the kids. We added decks and put the Jacuzzi tubs outside. Of course, we insulated the heck out of the whole structure.
Shields: I read that on your website of that you and your wife raised your kids up there with everyone participating in one fashion or another from washing dishes to building.
Diarmuid: It’s a family business in every sense of the word. Pam’s parents, Walt and Barb Marsh, have been a big part of the adventure from the day we bought the business in 1994. All four of our kids lived with us in our apartment above the restaurant and worked downstairs for at least part of their teenage years. It wasn’t always easy, but I think we agree that it has been a heck of an education.
Shields: What was it like in the Green Springs when you guys first moved there? You now have created a micro economy with the restaurant and the cabins.
Diarmuid: The Green Springs has evolved over the years. It used to be essentially a series of little logging communities along highway 66. In those days, it was a place where people worked close to home. But the time we arrived, it was a place where people retired or commuted to jobs in the valley.
One part of the past that has survived is our country school. Pinehurst is the last independent rural school district in Western Oregon with about 25 to 35 kids enrolled every year in grades kindergarten through eight.
Pinehurst is a big reason why this community continues to exist. People can live here and send their kids to school right in the neighborhood. We have been able to create jobs nearby, but if families were not living here we would have a hard time staying open in the first place..
Shields: People should understand where the Green Springs is located. It’s very rural. If you are not working in the community you are commuting the 25 or 35 minutes or 45 minutes into the town.
Diarmuid: Right now we have about 20 people on our payroll. We have people cleaning cabins, helping mill the lumber, waiting tables, cooking. Of course we’re seasonal, so we have more people in the summer. The Inn actually supports a significant part of the community. We have maybe a hundred families up here total.
Shields: I think that’s really neat how everyone working together creates a micro-economy. And the Inn is also a center for the Green Springs community.
Diarmuid: Community depends on people being in communication. That happens naturally in our place. Of course the school also brings people together because so many people work or volunteer there. We also have a fire department that we started up a few years ago.
Shields: Where did the community building spirit come from come from in your life Diarmuid?
Diarmuid: Somebody else would have to help me with that question. But my first experience out of college was in the Peace Corps in East Africa. I was a teacher in rural Uganda down toward Congo. Then I had a career in the Bay Area doing marketing. But various things came along my life including four kids. I think I missed the relationships you have in a smaller community.
Shields: Will you tell us a little bit about the cabins?
Diarmuid: We were here for 10 years before we were able to buy the 150-acre Boise property next to the Inn. People had been asking us about cabins but we had no place to build them. That opportunity came along in 2003 when were able to buy the land. Meanwhile our son Padraic had graduated from Ashland High School and earned a degree in construction engineering from Montana State University. He jumped in, started building a road into the property and quickly became the leader of the construction process.
Shields: So you have five cabins
Diarmuid: Yes, and we are in the process of building five more. We put in the septic and the waterlines this past summer. We’ll start building them in the spring.
Shields: We loved the cabin we stayed in. I was really impressed with just the craftsmanship.
Diarmuid: I think that people like the simplicity. Paddy did a great job of designing the interiors and detailing sort of the living spaces. The ceilings are high and we use a lot of wood for wainscoting and paneling and so forth. In the kitchen, we designed cabinets are open and they have glass shelves. You can keep them clean easily and they don’t take space away from the interior.
Shields: Our cabin had a wood stove.
Diarmuid: When people are in the cabins we heat primarily with wood from the property. We use a lot of wood that is left over from sawmill operation. You don’t want to see the whole world heat with wood but on the other hand it’s a resource that is right in front of us. It’s plentiful and it renews itself. One of the great things about a forest is that it is growing all the time. So, we can harvest a certain amount of carbon and use it but at end of the year there is actually more carbon locked up in the trees than there was at the beginning. Our carbon account is in the black, so to speak.
Shields: I understand that you are near a federal wilderness.
Diarmuid: We are inside the boundary of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. It was created by presidential decree at the end of the Clinton Administration in the year 2000. This is first monument that was established specifically for the purpose of preserving a piece of the environment. The Siskiyous are a high elevation land bridge that connects the Cascades with the coastal ranges. Several biological communities converge here and create a lot of genetic diversity. The wilderness around here been treated pretty harshly for the past five or six generations but there is a lot of environment left to save.
You know one of the markers of environmental health is the behavior of the wildlife. For example, we have lots of bears in our community. Unlike Yellowstone or parts of Alaska, our bears are good neighbors. They live like bears. They have an abundant supply of berries and insects and things they eat in a natural state. Generally they don’t get into our garbage or interact with people. When we had a problem a couple of years ago, we solved it by changing our own behavior. Mainly we learned to take better care of our trash containers.
Shields: What sort of of opportunities can you offer people who come up here?
Diarmuid: Actually many times people tell us about the opportunities. For example couples come by on bicycle expeditions. They might stay with us for a night and head up to Crater Lake. You ride hundreds of miles on paved and unpaved logging roads and never see a car. Then the butterfly people come and tell us about some of the things that they have observed in our mountains. Incidentally, Vladimir Nabokov, the author, was a lepidopterist. He stayed a year or so in Ashland back in the day and collected rare butterfly species in the Siskiyous. This is also a great area for birds. The Lower Klamath Lake Wildlife refuge is hour’s drive to the east. During the winter, when migratory birds converge there, you can see, 500 or a thousand bald eagles at a time. Did I mention fly fishing? A guy came in the other day and told me he has seen 15 or 18-inch redband trout in Jenny Creek which, incidentally, has been restored in the Box O Ranch area as a result of a lot of hard work on the part of the Bureau of Land Management.
Shields: I know you have mushroom hunting and then there is hiking.
Diarmuid: You probably know that the Pacific Crest Trail crosses Highway 66 right at Green Springs Summit. You can actually see the trail on the ridge opposite our cabins. We get to meet incredible people every summer who are trekking from the Mexican border up to the Canada.
Shields: How are you getting the word out about what you’re doing and attracting people?
Diarmuid: The first 10 years or so we had to depend primarily on word of mouth. There was no way that a business like this could afford to buy much print or electronic advertising. But the Internet has completely transformed our business. The first summer that we opened the cabins a few people by in and discovered us. At the end of that season I started to hear about something called Trip Advisor. Some of the people who had stayed here put reviews on this website. When I first looked at it, we were ranked the number three hotel in Ashland. A couple of weeks later we were up to number one. It turned out that Trip Advisor is a huge thing. It has millions of visitors and deals with travel worldwide. Suddenly this one site gave us visibility. By the third summer we were booked solid from June until September. Previously we depended mostly on people from the Rogue Valley and Klamath Basin. Now we get guests from Japan and Europe and so forth. The majority of our visitors are from the I-5 corridor: Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Southern California.
Shields: How can we find more about your business?
Diarmuid: Well come on by, or look at our website, which is greenspringsinn.com. We have an availability and reservation page on there. But I hope people just come up and help us figure out how to make this thing work better. We are trying to do something that will be part of a future when most people are probably living in urban places. But all of us still need to understand the natural world, be part of it, feel connected to it. We are trying to build a getaway wilderness community. We hope people will come back, bring their children back, learn about the place and help sustain it over the years.
Shields: Great. That’s awesome. Well, Diarmuid, thanks for talking with me today.
11470 Highway 66 Ashland,