Often our biggest sense of well-being comes from doing good for others. That’s especially easy to do in Oregon, where you can translate your passion for the forest, the rivers, the shoreline or the mountains into an hour, an afternoon or a weekend of giving back to your public lands. In fact, there’s a buzzword for it — “regenerative travel” — which simply means leaving a place better than you found it while you’re off adventuring. No matter your favorite way to enjoy the outdoors, here are several opportunities across the state that bring plenty of warm and fuzzy rewards and leave Oregon’s communities better at the same time.
Book an All-Inclusive Restoration Weekend With River Rewards
The workload is for moderate to advanced skill level volunteers only, but the payoff — hot springs, whitewater rafting, mountain biking and lounging at riverside cottages — is a sweet reward. The McKenzie Regenerative Travel project is a series of all-inclusive volunteer experiences that kicked off in spring 2021 to address wildfire damage from 2020 Holiday Farm Fire. While some McKenzie River area communities were untouched, others were devastated. Staff at the Willamette National Forest are stretched thin, and several recreation sites are in need of maintenance so visitors can return for the world-class rafting, hiking, biking, fishing and boating opportunities the region relies on.
New for 2022: Two trips with the Willamette River Regenerative Tour series are set for June and Sept. 2022 — an all-inclusive package including a guided kayaking tour on the Willamette River near Salem, craft food and drink experiences, watershed service projects, lodging and transportation. Attendees leave with a deeper connection to nature and the local community.
At Breitenbush Hot Springs in Detroit, guests who sign up for designated service weekends are offered a discounted stay in exchange for restoration work on the property after wildfire damage from the 2020 Lionshead fire. Sign up for the property’s newsletter to receive early notice about an opportunity in October 2022, including stewardship work like planting trees and native wildflower seed and clearing land of debris.
Combine Trail Work With a Camping Adventure
Hundreds of bikepackers each year cycle a section of the Oregon Timber Trail, the epic 669-mile backcountry trail stretching from Oregon’s southern border to its northern border and divided into four distinct tiers: Fremont, Willamette, Deschutes and Hood. Parts of the trail were heavily impacted by the 2020 wildfires, and the Oregon Timber Trail Alliance has been hosting work parties throughout 2021 to tackle much-needed restoration work. Look for project signups in 2022, where volunteers will partner with groups like Alpine Running, the Salem Area Trail Alliance and the Willamette National Forest for trail work — no experience needed. Volunteers will camp overnight, with free coffee and beer provided. There’s no cost to attend but registration is required. Look for more opportunities on the Oregon Timber Trail’s event calendar.
New for 2022: An Eastern Oregon Trail Work Volunteer Vacation is scheduled for June 17-21, 2022 in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. It involves a difficult loop hike of about 29 miles over five days, with about half the time spent on trail work and the other half on soaking up the epic vistas, stargazing, enjoying campfires and camaraderie. Gourmet backpacking meals and beverages, guided wilderness experts and crew leaders, equipment and safety gear are included. The project is led in partnership by Go Wild: American Adventures, Eastern Oregon Visitors Association and Wallowa Mountain Hells Canyon Trail Association.
Be a Hiking Scout or a Trail Ambassador
If you’ve ever spotted a downed tree, a mud bog or overgrown brush on a hiking trail and wished you could let someone know to fix it, that’s exactly what you’d be doing as a volunteer scout for Trailkeepers of Oregon. Interested volunteers can take a quick online Scout School tutorial about what hazards to look out for and how to report them. Then Trailkeepers will work with their crews of volunteers to get those neglected areas back into shape. If you’re outgoing and have knowledge of trails on the North Coast or Mt. Hood and Columbia River Gorge area, you may be a perfect fit for the Trailkeepers of Oregon Trail Ambassador program. These volunteers engage with visitors directly about safety, ethical use of public lands and Take Care Out There practices, as well as sharing opportunities to engage with local communities. Sign up now for the online training course.
Keep the Coast Beautiful
Ever find yourself picking up litter on the otherwise pristine shoreline of the Oregon Coast? You can sign up to be part of an organized cleanup through local organizations like Surfrider Foundation and SOLVE, which strive to keep plastic debris out of the ocean for the health of local wildlife and the ecosystem. If you’re interested in teaching others how to care for the coastal environment, consider becoming a Tidepool Ambassador at Cape Falcon or Cape Perpetua. You can also be a volunteer interpreter with the Haystack Rock Awareness Program, educating visitors about the amazing marine and bird life at Cannon Beach’s most iconic destination — no experience necessary.
Are you a budding citizen scientist? Consider joining CoastWatch, a citizen monitoring program through Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition that engages Oregonians in stewardship over their shoreline. The organization holds free events like the marine debris survey training at Fort Stevens State Park in the summer to learn how to collect data that will help evaluate the impacts of marine debris along Oregon’s coastline.