Central Oregon residents and tourists work to erase impact on nature

Apr 13, 2018

Bend Bulletin

Central Oregon residents and tourists work to erase impact on nature From the slopes of Mount Bachelor to the edges of the Deschutes River, scores of volunteers are regularly joining organized cleanups each year to weed, replant or pick up trash.

The companies and nonprofits that run these events say cleanups and restoration work are a way for companies and tourists to protect the environment in an area that embraces year-round recreation. It’s an activity that is attractive to millennials who want experiences with their leisure travel, said Kevney Dugan, Visit Bend executive director .

Visitors tell these groups that they enjoy connecting with the space where they are visiting.

“It’s all about giving back to the environment, and that gives us so much pleasure,” said Ginny Elliott, a Bend resident and a member of the Weed Warriors, which is organized by the Deschutes Land Trust, a conservation organization that cares for more than 9,000 acres in Central Oregon.

Exactly how many participants are residents or visitors at each cleanup-restoration event are not available, but travel and tourism officials say events like the cave cleanups put on by Wanderlust Tours, or river cleanups, provide a unique opportunity to visitors.

Voluntourism, or volunteer tourism, also attracts repeat visitors who develop a sense of belonging and pride in their vacation spot, Dugan said. Initiatives developed by the marketing arm of Bend that promote stewardship are Visit Bend Like a Local and The Bend Pledge, he said.

“Voluntourism is a trend we embrace wholeheartedly as a tool to help us reach our goal of being a more sustainable tourism destination,” Dugan said. “The trend is especially popular among millennials who have a passion for giving back to the places they visit. ”

According to a 2015 survey by Marriott Rewards Credit Card from Chase, 84 percent of millennials said that they would travel abroad to participate in volunteer activities. Many of those activities involve helping children and are not land-based like the ones in Central Oregon.

“The cleanup brings us together with other partnerships,” said David Nissen, owner of Wanderlust Tours, a Bend tour and travel company. “We provide people with an opportunity to participate in the cleanups. Usually we get a half dozen or so people who sign up, and it helps forge new relationships.”

The cave cleanup is so popular that it sparked an idea for a new cleanup. Nissen is working with the U.S. Forest Service to create more opportunities, particularly rehabilitating forest areas along the Deschutes River.

“A community cleanup creates ownership for locals and visitors who use the Deschutes National Forest,” Nissen said. “Our goal is to mitigate the impact of us humans.”

Intermittently, visitors will reach out to the Deschutes Land Trust, said Sarah Mowry, land trust outreach director. She usually will direct people to one of the trust’s projects and try to match their interests.

“We have folks getting in touch with us to set up a time for a work party,” Mowry said.

Elliott, 66, said last summer before the eclipse in August, a group from California dedicated three days to pulling weeds with her group. She said the group of 11 visitors regularly works on projects in areas where they vacation.

That is Jane and Tom Kelly from Richmond, California, who organize regular voluntourism treks across the country. Avid voluntourists, the Kellys never just go on vacation to sit and relax. They take great pleasure at yanking out weeds and digging holes to plant native species.

“We struggle with just going on vacation and not being helpful to someone else,” said Jane Kelly, who retired in 2016. “For us it’s important to volunteer our time and do something worthwhile for the environment. For us it’s creating a habitat.”

The Kellys also volunteer on a regular basis restoring habitat for the East Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society. They came to Bend last August with a group to spend three days removing invasive species at Whychus Creek and the Metolius Preserve.

“They couldn’t get enough of it,” Elliott said. “They were supposed to come for a day, but ended up volunteering for three days. They came back, they said, because there were still weeds to pull. The work struck a chord with them.”

At Smith Rock State Park for the past quarter-­century, more than 200 volunteers have come together every year to restore trails, build walls, stairs and pull weeds, said Ian Caldwell, a member of the Smith Rock Group, which organizes the effort.

In 2016 Smith Rock State Park had 767,632 visitors who came for hiking, rock climbing, camping and mountain biking, according to the Oregon State Parks website. With those numbers, the attraction is affected by the heavy use. During the annual cleanups, about half the volunteers live locally, and the rest travel from the Willamette Valley, Caldwell said.

“Smith Rock is well-loved and there’s limited staff,” Caldwell said. “The park staff doesn’t have the ability to do everything. We’re just trying to help out.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2117, sroig@bendbulletin.com

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