“ONDA helps me stay tethered to a part of the world that means a great deal to me personally and is critically important to Oregon’s biodiversity and history.” – ONDA member Molly Holt
While most ONDA members live in Oregon, we also have a strong base of support in Seattle, a growing contingent in Boise, a handful of members on the East Coast and even folks from as far away as Australia.
Each of the six members profiled here holds a strong and enduring love for Oregon’s high desert, built through the unique twists and turns of their lives. And, while each person has their own reasons for doing so, they have all found that supporting ONDA offers them a chance to stay connected to these wild places that have shaped and inspired them.
Eastern Oregon’s public lands have given Molly Holt space and refuge throughout her life. As she explained, “The Owyhee helped me find important parts of myself as a young person and it helped center me at a crossroads in late middle age.”
She first ventured to the Owyhee Canyonlands as part of a river clean-up effort after rafting season. Her deep love for eastern Oregon’s many ecosystems grew as she camped at nearby Steens Mountain, attended a local rodeo, and wound her way home along the John Day River and through the Painted Hills.
Three decades later, Molly returned to the Owyhee to gather herself for a new journey, after her husband’s death in 2012.
“Many wonderful writers from Wallace Stegner to Terry Tempest Williams have written about wilderness and its sacred nature. The Celts are said to refer to the “thin places” – places where the boundary between earth and heaven is thin and the experience of God is intimate and close to the heart,” said Molly. “When I think of the places where my sense of spirituality feels open and free to meet the thin space, I think of the Oregon High Desert and the Owyhee Canyonlands.”
Her hope: “I could not be more committed to the hope that others will share, pass on and protect this special set of ecosystems and the biodiversity it nurtures for all of us.”
Why Molly supports ONDA from afar: “Through ONDA I have a chance to hear about the activities and needs of those living in the high desert and the Steens and know whether I have an opportunity to extend my resources and honor my heart. I feel proud that I can support ONDA and Oregon communities in a practical way, even though I am 3,000 miles from Burns.”
Pacific Northwest native Benjamin Smith spent his childhood camping and hiking throughout Oregon’s high desert.
Spurred by an early interest in conservation and public lands issues, he obtained copies of the BLM Environmental Impact Statements for Wilderness Study Areas in Oregon as a teenager. (Benjamin, we are impressed!) He developed an appreciation for eastern Oregon’s unique and beautiful characteristics – and an understanding that Oregon’s desert needed advocacy to get the recognition and preservation it deserves.
His hope: “I see conservation as a long-term process of building local relationships and achieving models of conservation success to use for the future. So I hope some of the current collaborative endeavors aimed at conserving areas like Sutton Mountain and the Owyhee come to fruition and then can serve as a model and launch pad for additional initiatives.”
Why Benjamin is an ONDA member: “In my view, Oregon’s high desert represents one of the last and lesser known significant opportunities for landscape scale conservation in the United States. I love that ONDA is so well-established and deeply involved in so many ways in the effort to conserve Oregon’s High Desert … Being part of ONDA helps make me feel, even in a little way, a connection and contribution to the West’s landscape and community.”
Meryle Korn – Bellingham, Washington
Meryle spent much of her childhood vacationing in Oregon, visiting family in Terrebonne and exploring the beautiful river canyons of central Oregon. Later in life, she spent time with friends who owned property on the Metolius River and visited a farm near Bend for spectacular views of 2017’s solar eclipse.
While she notes that her retirement circumstances don’t leave her with much extra money, her ONDA membership remains a priority. As she said, “Even if I never again can visit the high desert country, I will send small donations when I can – just because it’s there and I want it to be there for others to love.”
Why Meryle won’t be letting her ONDA membership lapse: “I strongly support ONDA in your drive to protect the public lands of the High Desert, in your well-considered projects to remove old fencing (especially barbed wire) and reintroduce beavers into the area, etc.”
Her hope: “Nearly 70 years have passed since I first visited the area, and although I live hours away and am somewhat physically compromised in my advancing years, I hope to make the trip again and to finally set my feet on Steens Mountain after loving it from afar.”
Chaz first learned about ONDA while vacationing in Bend and running across our Wild Desert Calendar at a local shop. Many trips to Bend and through eastern Oregon since then have given Chaz a deep love for this place. Chaz views ONDA’s work as “a process of the head, heart and hands. The head working with elected officials and native stake holders to legislate usage. Your heart is the engine that provides the drive. And your hands do the work. All are committed to preserving and restoring the natural beauty of Oregon’s high desert. I can’t get my hands dirty from back East, but my head, heart and hands are with ONDA.”
What inspires Chaz to support ONDA’s mission: “ONDA is working for responsible preservation and revitalization of an area that we have come to love. How can you not support that goal?”
His hope: “That others come to share the value of the wild and untamed land. And we all seek to preserve the unique one-of-a-kind qualities of the Oregon high desert.”
Jill has always been fascinated by eastern Oregon and how different the ecosystem feels compared to Seattle. The remarkable wildlife and stunning geology has kept her coming back for many years. She fell in love with watching the Sandhill Cranes in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, exploring the geologic history of Diamond Craters, and, most of all, with Steens Mountain and the way it juts out of the earth sideways above the breathtaking Alvord Desert.
Why Jill joined this desert conservation community: Knowing that ONDA was integral in the protection of Steens Mountain and in recognition of ONDA’s efforts to remove damaging barbed wire fence throughout the region.
Her hope: For ONDA’s work to continue in meaningful ways through partnership with local communities in eastern Oregon.
Ryne first discovered ONDA after reading about two ultra-runners tackling the 170-mile section of the Oregon Desert Trail through the Owyhee Canyonlands. Their descriptions of the Owyhee’s harsh and wild beauty captivated him, and he soon after signed petitions in support of protection for the Owyhee and began planning a trip to see the region.
“My wife, dog, and I were only in the Owyhee Canyonlands for two days, but we will never forget it,” said Ryne. “On the drive to Succor Creek, we were left truly speechless and just marveled at the rugged beauty of the exposed rocky cliffs and canyons … We stayed up late stargazing and enjoyed one of the clearest night skies we had ever seen. We felt so small in the way that only a truly wild place can make you feel. We have been fortunate to explore a lot of the wild and beautiful places in the west, but the Owyhee was genuinely unique.”
His hope: “That the Oregon desert can be preserved and protected so that people can experience its wild and expansive beauty for many generations to come. I think the experience of being in such a remote and stunning area is the most powerful way for people to be inspired to take action, big or small, in protecting all wild places. After becoming an ONDA member, I was motivated to support more non-profits with similar missions in protecting public lands that are local to me.”
Why Ryne donates monthly to ONDA: “The Oregon desert and wildlife need people and organizations fighting for its preservation. I’m inspired by the transparency, diligent work, and passion in which ONDA works to preserve and protect the Oregon desert. Living in Tennessee, I cannot experience the Oregon desert on a regular basis or volunteer to help preserve it. I like knowing that my small monthly donation is helping to preserve the Oregon desert through ONDA’s work so that more people can experience its unique wildness and be inspired to take action.”
Are you one of our out-of-state members? Thank you for your support and please let us know if you have a story we should share in the future!