Yes, we are starting with plant puns, in dedication to my guzmania bromeliad – who unfortunately did not survive the move to Oregon. The 100 degree wind blowing through my air conditioning-less CRV for the greater portion of 13 hours did a number on the tropical-turned-houseplant that prefers gently filtered-through-understory sunlight and a slight misting in the morning. “You brought plants?” my fellow Sea Grant scholars chuckled. Beleaf it or not, I did. There’s no need to read between the pines…I just like plants.
My first week in southern Oregon has indeed been ferntastic. Having never visited the state, I am pleasantly surprised by its breadth of diverse vegetation, which significantly differs from the dry, Mediterranean climate of where I attend school in San Luis Obispo, California, and the semiarid climate of my hometown of Denver, Colorado. A favorite plant encountered here so far is the sword fern (Polystichum minutum). Many other understory plants I have become familiar with include vine maple (Acer circinatum), salal (Gualtheria shallon), and pacific rhododendron (Rhododendron macrophyllum).
Having only ever lived either near central Californian coastal areas or landlocked mountainous areas, I have been most excited to encounter a subspecies of lodgepole pine: P. contorta var. contorta, or shore pine.
These trees have specially adapted to living conditions too harsh for their fellow lodgepole cousins. They are therefore the dominant species here in their northern range, growing in rocky sites and sandy soil and surviving powerful salty winds. The unique shore pine is of keen interest to me as it is a symbolic representation of why I feel quite at home here: coastal Oregon = forests + the ocean. The southern Oregon coastal mountains support highly diverse plant species because the region is a transition zone between the Coastal Range and the Klamath/Siskiyou Mountains.
Learning the ecology of the places you visit creates a special connection between humans and nature. Instead of just aesthetically experiencing the views, fresh air, and songbird calls, the species of plants and animals around you become familiar as you learn their names. For those of us who are particularly ecologically inclined, this is much like seeing old friends*.
This type of outdoor experience is known as experiential tourism, and it is what I will be working on this summer with the Wild Rivers Coast Alliance for Oregon’s Southern Coast. Much like interpretation, experiential tourism encourages the visitor to learn about the contextual and ecological meaning of what they are experiencing in order to form a long-term, transformational relationship between visitor and environment rather than a distant, transactional relationship. This type of interaction with nature creates personal meaning in the tourist and not only provides an understanding of the species’ names, it also encourages a deeper understanding about the species’ important role in its balanced and complex greater ecosystem.
Our project aims to build a sustainable, experiential tourism program for this region that enhances the resilience of the South Coast’s livelihoods, people, and ecosystems through economic, community, and conservation initiatives. We then hope to create a tourism development training program to help other coastal communities throughout the country prioritize ecosystem health and economic opportunity in environmentally sensitive and significant places. Stay tuned for more!