Trail riders, skiers, hikers and rock climbers come to Bend to enjoy the natural sites, but they rarely donate time or cash to maintain those areas.

Visit Bend and tourism agencies from three other mountain towns this week launched a program called Pledge for the Wild, which gathers donations from tourists to benefit local organizations. The cities — South Lake Tahoe, Nevada; Steamboat, Colorado; and Bozeman, Montana — want to promote what they call responsible tourism. The hope is that more destinations will join the initiative, said Kevney Dugan, Visit Bend CEO.

“We are trying to educate visitors on how to interact with the wild places they’re enjoying,” Dugan said. “The reason people visit these places is to interact with outdoor places.”

With 4.5 million annual visitors a year in Central Oregon, and the bulk traveling during the summer months to raft, bike or float, establishing a donation mechanism can ease their impact, Dugan said.

Donations from Bend tourists will go to the Deschutes Trails Coalition, said Rika Ayotte, Discover Your Forest executive director. Money will then be doled out to the coalition’s partner organizations, Ayotte said.

“Any funds raised will be invested by diverse organizations with a shared vision for an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable trail system,” Ayotte said.

While Visit Bend has taken the lead on this initiative, the $250 invested to create the website will be reimbursed by Pledge for the Wild, Dugan said. Visit Bend is the city’s tourism marketing agent and is funded by transient room taxes.

No tourism tax dollars will be used, but the organization can use its extended reach via social media to promote the initiative.

The concept is much the same as what outdoor equipment companies, like Patagonia, have done for the past three decades, Dugan said.

Those companies recognized that government and volunteer organizations don’t have enough resources to maintain miles of trails and ski areas, so they make donations to a single organization.

“The travel and tourism industry hasn’t carried its weight for taking care of the places we market,” Dugan said. “We felt we needed to find a way to support the land we are marketing.”

Woody Keen, Central Oregon Trail Alliance trails program director, said that he’d be excited to participate in a program like Pledge for the Wild.

“On any given day our trails are being used by people who are not local,” Keen said.

“Finding a way for out of town visitors to give back makes perfectly good sense.”

Keen said many trail users often assume the U.S. Forest Service is maintaining the trails, but the reality is there are too many miles. It’s often left to volunteers, he said.

Visitors giving back is not something new in Central Oregon. Meissner Nordic, a nonprofit that operates under an agreement with the Forest Service, is run by a volunteer board of directors, and trail maintenance is done by volunteers.

Donations are solicited online and at an on-site donation box for use of the groomed trails, said Steve Roti, Meissner Nordic president.

“Pledge for the Wild sounds like a positive step toward responsible tourism,” Roti said.

When the initiative was first presented to the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority, CEO Carol Chaplin embraced the opportunity to shift visitor thinking.

“The destination marketing organizations are uniquely poised to come together with a powerful message about how to enrich (the visitor) experience with stewardship,” Chaplin said.

“We think that the trend of ‘give-back’ travel is gaining momentum. And we know our destinations are not sustainable without resources to preserve the exact places people yearn for.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2117, sroig@bendbulletin.com

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