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Mike Love (right) transferred ownership of his 48-acre property along the Sprague River to the Klamath Lake Land Trust.

When Mike Love decided to move to Bend he didn’t want to take a chance on whether a new owner of the 48 acres of land along the Sprague River that he painstakingly converted to a wetlands would preserve his 20 years of efforts.

So Love worked with leaders of the Klamath Lake Land Trust, and earlier this year transferred ownership of the property to the Klamath Falls-based group.

Creating a wetlands along the Sprague River between Chiloquin and the community of Sprague River wasn’t his original intent. When Love, 69, a retired sergeant from the Fresno, Calif., police department, bought a house near Chiloquin in 1997 and, later, the wetlands-to-be, his original intent was to develop ponds to use to train field trial dogs.

“The more I got into it I realized it would be good for birds and deer,” he said of what evolved. “It was a chore just to get it cleaned up just so I could see what it (the property) looked like. It took 10 to 12 years just to notice the difference.”

Nothing came easy. Decades of flooding and soil compaction had parched the land. Love had no experience in operating various heavy equipment — “I was really green.” And when he planted willows and other trees and shrubs, beavers, muskrats and, especially vole, proved challenging. “They tried to take over everything and destroyed the vegetation. It was,” he said, “a lesson in humility.”

But with perseverance and grants from state and federal fish and wildlife agencies, he gradually created a transformation.

“It really changed the whole area,” Love said. “I can’t hardly believe how it looks today because it was barren ground.”

Love had been commuting between his Sprague River properties and Bend, which led to his decision to sell or, as it turned out, donate the wetlands property. He considered various organizations but settled on the Klamath Lake Land Trust, partly because the organization is local and, even more, because of his working relationship with Crystal McMahon, the group’s executive director.

“She finally made it happen,” Love said of the transfer of what he has named “For the Birds,” a name the Land Trust will honor.

“The name fits perfectly,” Love said, noting the wetlands attracts various ducks, geese and other waterfowl, along with resurgent deer populations. And, despite “big headaches, long days and problem solving,” he encourages others to consider participating in various wetland reserve programs and/or donation programs. He also urges people to think long-term. Even before he decided to move Love said he wondered, “What’s going to happen to it, who’s going to take care of it.”

“He wanted to know the property would be protected,” McMahon said, noting that’s what the Land Trust will do. “It’s really an amazing place. It’s beautiful.”

McMahon said the transfer happened fairly quickly. A Land Trust team did an initial evaluation followed by visits by staff and board members and necessary legal paperwork.

“We’re really interested in carrying forth his legacy,” she said of future plans. “Definitely we’ll do a hike there next year,” McMahon added, noting the Land Trust offers a series of hikes, kayak trips and other public events. In the short-term, she said a comprehensive study that could include ongoing projects to enhance bird habitat.

The Land Trust currently manages nearly 600 acres for conservation, including properties along the Tablelands and the Sprague and Sycan rivers along with an easement on property along Upper Klamath Lake on Shoalwater Bay. McMahon said the organization partners with several local, state and federal agencies along with the Klamath Tribes and farm- and ranch-related groups.

“We’re interested,” McMahon said, “in working with whoever’s interested in conservation.”