Editor’s note: Never before has Mother Nature experienced so deeply the effects of a changing planet. In celebration of Earth Day 2022, this four-part series dives into the effects of climate change on some Oregon destinations, attractions and industries. We also explore the resilience of local communities and the innovations of local leaders determined to keep Oregon one of the greenest places in the world to visit and live. Thank you for joining with us.
Whether you live in Oregon or elsewhere on the planet, we’ve all been experiencing hotter, drier summers and more devastating fire seasons. Oregon’s rain levels and snowfall patterns have become more severe and erratic. Most recently, the Portland area saw its first measurable April snowfall in many decades, and it fell just three days after an unseasonably warm 77-degree day. In the face of this reality, Oregon communities that depend on industries like farming, ranching, fishing, tourism and outdoor recreation have been adjusting the ways in which they work and play. All across Oregon — from state government to the smallest towns, from family-owned hotels to multigeneration ranches — people are taking action to reduce their contributions to climate change.
Without mindful action to reduce activities that create greenhouse gases — especially the burning of fossil fuels used in transportation — carbon dioxide continues to be released into the atmosphere at an alarming rate. Once there, those molecules trap heat, raising global temperatures and shifting weather patterns. Experts agree we need to seriously curb our carbon emissions if we’re going to slow the warming trend.
We are all part of the solution, and can take actions large and small by minimizing our carbon footprint, supporting the businesses and industries that make each of Oregon’s distinctive regions so special, and exploring regenerative travel tours and projects.
One of the easiest ways to be a good steward in Oregon is to support local businesses, especially when it comes to food. Food waste is a huge problem in Oregon and elsewhere, as organic matter doesn’t decompose as quickly in a landfill as you might think, emitting methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Here’s a startling fact: The purchase of food in Oregon is the second-leading contributor (at 15%) to our state’s consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions, second only to our use of vehicles. Many statewide organizations are doing innovative work every day to systematically reduce food waste and even get much of that food to those who need it. For instance, since 2004 the nonprofit Farmers Ending Hunger has partnered with local family farmers, growers and ranchers across Oregon to help them donate a portion of the food they grow. The organization helps them harvest and process the crops into food that is easily stored and distributed to emergency food networks in the region — from wheat to pancake mix — bridging the urban and rural divide.
In the not-so-distant future, Oregon’s governor has committed the state to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030. While you travel throughout the state, look for places that feature locally grown ingredients, shop for produce from local farm stands, U-picks and farmers markets, and support the independent businesses along one of the many self-guided Oregon Food Trails.
“The good news is that there are straightforward solutions, big and small, to reduce food waste, and these solutions can save households and businesses money,” says Udara Abeysekera, program manager at the Rethink Waste Project in Bend. To help be part of the solution wherever you call home, Abeysekera suggests taking a free 4-week Rethink Food Waste Challenge, designed to help you find out what — and how much — food is going to waste in your home.
Emissions-Free Electric Car Routes
Going electric is easy on the West Coast with the West Coast Electric Highway — an extensive network of EV charging stations from British Columbia, Canada, to California. The highway runs through Oregon, and you can find “fast” charging stations every 25 to 50 miles along Interstate 5 and other major roadways. PlugShare provides real-time information and rates each station with a “PlugScore” reflecting users’ experience. Visitors can find several curated EV-friendly routes in the Oregon Electric Byways map and guide.
Car-Free Travel in Oregon
Interested in ditching the car altogether? Consider these car-free itineraries from across the state, which use a combination of bicycles, light rail, shuttle buses and Amtrak train service.
Portland is a famously pedestrian-friendly city, with a comprehensive light rail and bus service and generous bike lanes. You can rent a bright-orange electric bike at one of 220 BIKETOWN kiosks. Adaptive BIKETOWN even provides special bikes and fittings for any particular physical needs. Bend, Eugene and Ashland also offer bike-sharing services.
The Columbia River Gorge Waterfall Corridor, which boasts the greatest concentration of waterfalls in North America, sees road congestion all year-round, especially in the summer. More than ever, you’ll want to plan ahead for summer visits to Multnomah Falls and nearby cascades. From May 24 to Sept. 5, 2022, timed access permits for motorized vehicles will be required at specific times along a 6-mile stretch of the western Gorge. However a smarter way to travel is to skip the car (and parking hassle) and book a shuttle from a company like Sasquatch Shuttle or a relaxing bus ride with an outfitter like Columbia Gorge Express. Or try exploring on two wheels – bring your own or rent an e-bike from E-Bike Multnomah Falls to bypass crowded parking lots and access several falls on a peaceful day trip.
If you’d like to take a bike-centric vacation anywhere in the state, Cycle Oregon is the place for route planning. From forested routes to gravel rides, it’s easy to trace out the perfect itinerary. For bike trips that marry gorgeous scenery with historic sites, check out their first Connections route through Wallowa County. Or choose from one of 17 state-designated Scenic Bikeways, such as the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway, which links Champoeg State Heritage Area and Eugene along 134 lush miles.
Take Advantage of the Non-Summer Months
Another way to lessen your travel impact is traveling in the off- or shoulder-season, when resources in small and busy seasonal communities are not so stretched. Lodgings and restaurants across the state have struggled to retain staff and provide the quality service we’ve come to expect. At the same time, some towns are seeing visitor-related numbers drop during what used to be their busiest times.
“We’re going to see it change even more,” says Sandra Slattery, executive director at Ashland Chamber of Commerce, noting that smoky summers have become the norm, not the exception. Ashland is not only home to the world-renown Oregon Shakespeare Festival but is famous for its rich culinary and outdoor recreation scenes. Especially magical are fall and spring for less-crowded mountain biking trails and water adventures in Southern Oregon, and winter skiing at Mt. Ashland is always worth the trip, with a free shuttle that carries visitors to the mountain from downtown.
If you tend to travel in summer, consider visiting some of your favorite spots in other seasons: Try winter storm-watching from comfy lodging in Astoria or Yachats, for example, or snowshoeing in the Wallowa Mountains.
You can also show your support by patronizing eco-friendly hotels and inns. The Oxford Hotel in Bend, for example, runs on 100% renewable energy, runs a robust recycling program and works with local vendors for organic, refillable products like shampoo and soap to reduce single-use waste. You may find you sleep better on the hotel’s natural mattresses, made from rubber-tree latex and soy foam.
Go Deeper With Guides
Finally, consider taking guided tours with local experts. Carpooling can lessen your impact on the environment, but taking the opportunity to see Oregon from the perspective of an experienced guide with a rich relationship to the community and land can deepen your understanding of a region. Go whale-watching on the Coast or tour the Warm Springs Indian Reservation with Eco Tours of Oregon. Or grab a headlamp and join the experienced guides of Wanderlust Tours, who’ll lead you into the depths of lava-tube caves near Bend to learn about the fragile, wondrous ecosystems.
In the mountains of Northeast Oregon, Go Wild offers multiday wilderness experiences. Founder Dan Sizer especially enjoys encouraging beginners who have never strapped on a backpack to head off into the wild, and he’s landed on a winning formula: Make trips comfortable and fun, and cap off adventurous days with gourmet dinners and cocktails. In the summer of 2022, Sizer is leading an Eastern Oregon Trail Work Volunteer Vacation in the Wallowa-Whitman Forest, combining trail work with stargazing and relaxing by the campfire.
“Seeing the change in people as they step out of the car and see a starry sky is what urged me to start my business,” says Sizer. “If people have a great time in the wilderness, they’re more likely to do it again. Once they appreciate and understand the outdoors, they ultimately become better caretakers.”
Once you caretake even the smallest bit of Oregon, you become a collaborator and an agent of change, helping the state thrive even in the face of monumental challenges.