For Portland-based First Nature Tours, travel isn’t just about sightseeing and relaxation. It’s also an opportunity to help restore and learn about landscapes that make Oregon unique. First Nature Tours specializes in what’s called regenerative tourism, which combines hands-on restoration and volunteer experience with plenty of active outdoor adventures.
“It’s getting people to think about ways they can engage while traveling in a much more transformative way, and creating opportunities for groups and teams to build memorable connections in the outdoors,” says Kieron Wilde, the company’s founder.
On a First Nature trip, expect to come away with a deeper connection to Oregon’s ecosystems and a new perspective on the many rewards of visiting somewhere new. Here are a few of the expert-led, all-inclusive experiences you can book for yourself or your team to get into nature and share stewardship of these remarkable places.
Clean Up Microplastics and Build Sandcastles at the Coast
Microplastics are tiny, toxic plastic fragments. They litter many of Oregon’s beaches and devastate marine life, but they’re often overlooked during typical beach-cleanup events.
First Nature partners with Seaside-based nonprofit Sea Turtles Forever — which developed a screen that uses static electricity to remove microplastics from sand — to connect groups with opportunities to make a difference. After a few hours of beach cleanup, expect lots of fun Coast activities like crabbing, kayaking and hiking, plus stand-up paddleboard yoga and a sandcastle-building competition. Then settle in at SCP Hotels’ Salishan Coastal Lodge at Gleneden Beach, just south of Lincoln City, to enjoy a serenely forested setting crisscrossed with private hiking trails.
Wine, Kayaking and White Oak Planting in the Willamette Valley
The broad, expansive canopies of Oregon white oak trees were once emblematic of the Willamette Valley. Now less than 3% of their habitat remains because of development and agriculture. First Nature partners with the Willamette Valley Visitors Association and vineyards to host two-day tours that help support white oak habitat. Groups plant white oak saplings on vineyard property before a wine tasting, a tour of the vineyard and a wood-fired pizza dinner. Left Coast Estate is among more than two dozen wineries that have signed on to the Willamette Partnership’s Oak Accord, an agreement between the conservation nonprofit and local landowners to restore and protect Oregon white oak habitat. Wilde has also taken groups out to Analemma Wines in Mosier, east of Hood River, to participate in native-plant restoration on the vineyard’s property.
After wine tasting in the Willamette Valley, you might help remove invasive English ivy and Himalayan blackberry from an oak-savanna fragment with the Luckiamute Watershed Council. Afterward, you’ll head to The Independence, a boutique hotel on the Willamette River. With easy river access, enjoy a relaxing, beginner-friendly kayak trip while also learning about the river’s history and habitats.
Or, go on your own: The Institute for Applied Ecology also hosts regular Willamette Valley restoration projects throughout the year. Additionally, Friends of Trees organizes numerous volunteer tree-planting events in the Portland, Salem and Eugene metro areas.
Restore Trails and Plant Conifers Along the McKenzie River
For truly memorable team-building, book this three-day trip to the McKenzie River Corridor, just east of Eugene, for challenging mountain biking and whitewater rafting while also helping communities impacted by forest fire. This trip is part of the nonprofit Cascade Volunteers’ McKenzie Regenerative Travel Project to encourage tourism in the area where the Holiday Farm Fire burned more than 173,000 acres in 2020. Your group can help boost local communities destroyed by the fire while learning more about fire’s rejuvenating effects on forest ecosystems.
First, spend part of the day restoring some of the area’s numerous mountain bike trails with Disciples of Dirt, a local mountain bike club. You’ll get an up-close look at the life that thrives after fire, including colorful spring wildflowers, woodpeckers and mushrooms. Afterward, regroup at the cozy Horse Creek Lodge & Outfitters in McKenzie Bridge before heading out on a guided mountain bike or whitewater-rafting excursion on the McKenzie River.
Or, go on your own: If you’re curious to learn more about trail restoration or other stewardship opportunities in the area, check out Cascade Volunteers, Trailkeepers of Oregon or Friends of the Central Cascades Wilderness.