By Aaron West

The Bulletin

Petersen Rock Garden and Museum closed indefinitely last week because its insurance was canceled and the facility needs repairs that owner Sue Caward says she has no money for.

The closing of the well-known roadside attraction near Redmond was announced on the Rock Garden’s Facebook page last week.

“We are sorry to tell you folks but we had to shut down Petersen’s Rock Garden,” Thomas Taylor, a manager at the garden, posted Sept. 9. “We have a bunch of repairs that we have to get done before we can reopen and we don’t know if we have enough money for it …”

The announcement goes on to note that management is hoping to get the garden reopened soon, which Caward confirmed Wednesday even though she said it’s uncertain when exactly that might happen.

“We have to paint the buildings, put hand railings on the stairs, fix the windows that are broken, fix the plumbing and get some trees taken out,” she said. “There’s a whole bunch of stuff.”

The garden, located on SW 77th Street between Bend and Redmond, is a quirky 82-year-old tourist spot that features sculptures, bridges, castles and more made from obsidian and other rocks. A flock of 30 or so peacocks and peahens roam the grounds.

Caward’s grandfather Rasmus Petersen, who moved from his native Denmark to Central Oregon in the early 1900s and set up a 256-acre farm between Bend and Redmond, built the garden from rocks on his farm.

Restore Oregon, an organization dedicated to saving the state’s historic places, placed Petersen Rock Garden and Museum on its list of Oregon’s Most Endangered Places in 2013. The site also is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Caward said the primary reason for the sudden closure, which seemed to catch some followers of the Rock Garden’s Facebook page off guard, was the garden’s insurance was canceled because of crumbling and unsafe buildings and structures there.

“The lady from the insurance company called me (Tuesday) and said we could get some liability insurance in case somebody hurt themselves, but not for the buildings themselves until they’re repaired,” Caward said.

Travis Bennett, owner of AIC Insurance Agency in Redmond — Petersen Rock Garden’s insurance agent — said the company is “working with” Caward to get the garden reopened.

“She could have insurance today,” Bennett said, declining to specify how much coverage would cost. “I know she’s publicly saying she can’t be open because of insurance, but it’s not unreasonably priced. We’re giving her some options on how to get the doors back open.”

AIC Insurance Agency had been working with Caward and Petersen Rock Garden for more than 20 years, Bennett said, adding that insurance isn’t required to keep the garden open.

“If you want to have a garage sale and people come into your yard, you can do that without insurance,” he said. “Does (Caward) have exposure that she doesn’t have coverage for? Yeah, probably. I don’t know what all of her frustrations are exactly, but insurance is a scapegoat.”

Meanwhile, Caward said the Rock Garden’s closing hasn’t stopped people from trying to visit.

“We closed the gate, but people still want in,” she said. “It’s hard to believe how gutsy some people are. Tomorrow we’re going to put up a sign that says ‘keep out’ and another one that says ‘private property.’”

She said the privacy is necessary while rock garden staff and volunteers work to make the repairs, even though money to make the repairs is running short. Visitors to the garden are encouraged to drop $6 in a box at the entrance.

“We’ve got plenty of stuff to do; we just don’t have the money to do it all,” she said. “We’re doing our best. We’re pressure washing so we can paint the buildings, and we’ve got to have a professional do the plumbing and roofs. We’re doing our best, but every day we’re closed it’s not good.”

Anyone who wants to donate time, materials or money to the Petersen Rock Gardens can contact Susan Caward at 541-382-5574.

— Reporter: 541-617-7829,

awest@bendbulletin.com

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