CAVE JUNCTION Ñ With spring just around the corner, the Rusk Ranch Nature Center is gearing up for sunshine and butterflies.

Rusk Ranch is a nonprofit, 56-acre outdoor education and recreation facility just south of Cave Junction, west off of Redwood Highway.

In addition to working diligently to grow local and tropical milkweed, necessary for the production of monarch butterflies, volunteers spent Friday Ñ the first of this season's official volunteer days at the center Ñ working outdoors creating a natural playground.

The natural playground, near the center's butterfly pavillion, will have outdoor music elements, including large wood and metal xylophones and drums for children to play, a grand "hobbit hill" slide, a water feature and sand area.

Many more volunteers are needed in coming weeks to prepare the natural playground in time for opening on the Memorial Day weekend, said Patty Downing, executive director at Rusk Ranch.

"We have a job for everyone," Downing said, adding volunteers can choose their style of volunteer function, such as outdoor fence or playground construction, gardening, potting plants, raking or other playground preparation.

Volunteers also are needed throughout the year to act as docents, greeters, tour guides, camp counselors, tending the greenhouses and in general maintenance and groundskeeping functions.

The nature center sits on 56 acres of natural trails and beauty that was previously a horse farm. It was donated by the Rusk family in 2007 for a center to benefit children and adults Ñ a place where they can reconnect with nature and enjoy the outdoors.

Although the butterfly pavilion is one of the center's most popular features, the property also is home to dozens of wild turkeys, deer, jack rabbits and other wildlife.

The property borders on the Illinois River at two locations, which offers additional opportunities for wildlife enjoyment and water discoveries, Downing said.

Plans for the center are still developing. In addition to creating a youth soccer field and playground for children and families, staff members expect to continue preserving the wetland area and eventually construct an indoor exhibit and discovery hall near the Redwood Highway entrance to the center.

Marilyn Ormsby, a Rusk Ranch Nature Center board member, spent Friday morning potting plants in a greenhouse at the facility.

Ormsby, 63, said she enjoys volunteering at the center because she loves plants.

"The center has a wonderful vision to let kids come and enjoy the outdoors," she said. "It's just a delightful place to be."

Reach reporter Ruth Longoria Kingsland at 541-474-3718 or rkingsland@thedailycourier.com

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