Seek out regenerative-tourism opportunities for a deeper experience in the region.
The dark skies of the Oregon Outback; picturesque wineries in the Applegate Valley; epic mountain biking through old-growth forests on Brown Mountain — there are myriad reasons to come to Southern Oregon. Did you know there are also plenty of ways to give back to the special places you love to visit and help ensure a strong future for these destinations?
This concept is at the heart of regenerative tourism. Both sustainable and regenerative tourism consider the “triple bottom line” of people, economy, and planet, says Dr. Pavlina McGrady, associate professor and coordinator of Southern Oregon University’s new program in sustainable tourism management. While the sustainable tourist tries to minimize any negative impact, the regenerative tourist seeks to leave a place better than it was found — for example, by helping restore a trail after a wildfire.
Here are some ways you can give back on your next trip to Southern Oregon.
Help Blaze a Trail
From the wide-open roads of the Oregon Outback to lava-strewn Brown Mountain to a remote canyon in the Illinois Valley, if your passion is hiking, cycling or mountain biking, Southern Oregon is a veritable playground. Join forces with one of several regional organizations to help improve it.
If you love spending time in the backcountry, you can help the nonprofit Siskiyou Mountain Club restore and maintain primitive trails in Southwest Oregon and Northwest California. The group hosts several multiday trips at lower elevations in spring that are ideal for visitors; sign up for their newsletter to stay in the loop.Cyclists can join a Meetup for the Klamath Trails Alliance and help build and maintain trails at Spence Mountain and Brown Mountain in Klamath County. Sign up with the Rogue Valley Mountain Bike Association for trail-work days in and around Ashland, Medford, Grants Pass and the Applegate Valley.
Support the Parks
Southern Oregon boasts several national treasures, and each offers singular ways to give back. Become a member of Friends of Crater Lake and join volunteers from around the country on special projects in Crater Lake National Park, from trail maintenance and native plant care to rider support during Ride the Rim. With training you can also help staff the Rim Village Café Information Center in winter. Events such as the group’s popular annual Project Weekend are advertised well in advance, so you can time your trip to Crater Lake accordingly.
In Jackson County, Friends of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is always looking for volunteers. The group hosts a stewardship event on National Public Lands Day in late September, a stunning time of year to visit the monument.
Help Farms Grow
If you’re craving a stronger connection with your food and the people who help grow it, consider a farm stay on a working ranch such as Aspen Ridge Resort near Bly, where you can saddle up a horse or cast a line in one of the area’s lakes. At Willow-Witt Ranch, east of Ashland, you can pick fresh vegetables from the garden or accompany the goats on their daily “migration” to browse.
Direct purchasing is one of the best — and tastiest — ways to support local producers. Buy directly from vendors at the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market in Medford and Ashland. Klamath Falls, Grants Pass and several smaller towns also host vibrant markets (check their websites for seasonal closures and hours). Discover local flavors and beautiful back roads on the Great Umpqua Food Trail, which offers over 40 stops and three itineraries for road-trippers. Farther south, explore the banquet of options — including wineries, bakeries, cheeses, berries, local honey and even heirloom seeds — along the Rogue Valley Food Trail.
Support Community Businesses
Perhaps even more important than volunteer projects, says McGrady, who also co-leads sustainable-tourism workshops for professionals, is “thinking from an economic and community standpoint about where we are spending our money.”
With a little research, you can be deliberate about patronizing locally owned restaurants, lodging and retail stores that practice sustainability and support their communities. In Ashland, for example, all proceeds from the Siskiyou Outdoor Store go to supporting the Siskiyou Mountain Club’s trail crews.
Keep in mind you can also join the groups that maintain trails, parks and other community assets. Membership fees directly support their work, and you’ll stay informed about volunteer opportunities and other events that are sure to draw you back to this bountiful region.
Top photo: Volunteering with Siskiyou Mountain Club (Photo courtesy of BLM)