Stories of nature’s impact are part of what’s driving Oregon’s long-term outdoor recreation initiative.
The contributions of travel to Oregon’s economic health are irrefutable: $11.3 billion in annual visitor spending supporting more than 109,000 employment opportunities for Oregonians. Similarly, travel is good for your personal health and well-being. The 1992 Framingham Heart Study, which tracked workers over 20 years, found that men who don’t take vacations were 30% more likely to have heart attack and for women it went up to 50%. And researchers are amassing a body of evidence showing that getting out in nature has both long and short term mental and physical health benefits.
Such is the impetus behind the Oregon Outdoor Recreation Initiative, which seeks to improve access to outdoor recreation and bolster the local communities and economies that surround those areas. Improving access to the outdoors will benefit not only local economies, but the health of individuals and communities as a whole. The stories of two Oregonians and their intimate relationships with Oregon’s nature illustrate this connection.
Chad Brown owns Soul River Runs Deep, an outdoor lifestyle apparel brand and associated non-profit in North Portland that connects at-risk youth and veterans with the river. Fly fishing has become his solace: when two anglers pass each other on the trail, he says, each knows what one has just experienced, or what the other is about to receive.
“There’s a higher purpose that causes a man or a woman to find themselves back on the river,” says Brown. “When you’re out there for five hours, wading around in 20 degree water, you’re in the pursuit of something much deeper than just catching fish.”
To catch a fish, the angler must integrate completely within the environment. Stillness is not an advantage, it’s a necessity. Even the line must be cast so artfully that it mimics the natural environment, like an insect landing delicately on the water’s surface (a practice which takes years to master). What’s truly happening is not the pursuit of fish, but a conversation with nature: by giving subtle directions, such as wind patterns, water and air temperature and reactions in the water, she is speaking directly to the angler. “When you pay attention to these things,” says Brown, “nature is giving you a map. She is leading you to the fish.”
An angler fly fishing in an Oregon river.
This type of practice—a complete immersion in the moment—has been pivotal for Brown’s life. Before fly fishing, he was a U.S. Navy veteran who served in Desert Storm Gulf War and Operation Restore Hope, Somalia. Brown returned to work in the fast world of advertising, when years later, he encountered severe symptoms of PTSD that almost drove him to suicide. Discovering fly fishing at age 35 became his medicine, he says, and the first step into a transformative healing process that continues to this day.
“So many pieces are happening, you forget about the chaotic mess in your head. It silences everything,” says Brown. “Nature is my coping mechanism—it isn’t going to solve the problem, but it will give me the tools to better accept what I’m going through.”
Hiker on the Mckenzie River Trail.
Leticia Valle has seen similar effects. Valle is the community program manager for the Blue Zones Project in The Dalles, which seeks to increase residents’ longevity by making healthy choices easier. Her recent project was leading group hikes, especially with Latina populations. Many of the women had never been on trails before, either due to lack of transportation (undocumented immigrants can’t get driver’s licenses) or language barriers, like difficulty interpreting trail signs. Valle was most surprised by how quickly her group took to it: after one hike, women were inviting husbands, children and friends. People would stay long after, share food and continue conversations. Two participants even ended up becoming dear friends and living together. “Being outside, you’re not comparing yourself or thinking about your problems,” says Valle. “Everyone is equal on the trail. When you get different people together, you see that nature brings out the best in us.”
Leticia Valle is the community program manager for the Blue Zones Project in The Dalles.
The main takeaways Valle saw were physical: after the hike, participants could breathe much deeper than normal, and felt more control of their lives and its challenges. One woman noticed a subtle yet significant effect: when given a survey, for one of the first times in decades, she didn’t need her glasses to read the fine print.
The natural setting allows the body to relax; in this relaxed state, senses are restored and the ensuing calmness allows people to handle challenges more efficiently. Nature seems designed to facilitate this process: trees produce phytoncides, a volatile compound that reduces stress hormones; from soil comes antioxidant electrons that reduce inflammation; there’s even the famous 1984 study by Dr. Roger Ulrich, where patients of gallbladder surgery who had a tree-facing window recovered faster, with fewer drugs and with less postsurgical complications than those whose window faced a brick wall.
While benefits apply widely, nature’s role is deeply personal. For Chad Brown, it’s a necessary practice in his ongoing healing. For Leticia Valle, it’s her way to enhance community health and watch friendships blossom. And though nature’s impacts seem unique, the feeling is fundamentally the same: the humility in playing a part in something greater.
The Oregon Outdoor Recreation Initiative was developed recognizing these individual health benefits, as well as the magnetic draw of Oregon’s outdoors and its collective impact: of the 26.4 million overnight visitors to Oregon last year, 33% participated in an outdoor recreation activity during their stay—this is nearly 9 million people, 67% higher than the national average.
Fatbiking along the coast in Southern Oregon.
By experiencing the outdoors, people support an industry which injects money into the local economy, which then contributes to the development of other local services and amenities. The Oregon Outdoor Recreation Initiative aims to strengthen this economic impact by creating ways for everyone to experience the splendor of Oregon’s natural beauty.
To find out more about the initiative, go to industry.TravelOregon.com. Or you can support the initiative more directly, in the same way Brown and Valle do: step outside, bring some community members and experience the magic together.
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