Oregon’s Owyhee touches hearts, minds of veterans and urban youth

Chad Brown is a decorated US Navy veteran who received multiple honors after serving in Desert Storm Gulf War and Operation Restore Hope, Somalia, and who struggles today with PTSD. Brown’s discovery of nature as medicine inspired him to launch Soul River Inc., a nonprofit that connects veterans and inner-city youth in the great outdoors. 

By engaging U.S veterans as mentors for inner city youth through fishing and camping, all experience the healing power of nature. And together, they form an enduring love for our public lands, waters and wildlife. McKenna Erickson, Sofina Gilbert and Andre Tharp were part of a group that recently journeyed to the Owyhee with Soul River Inc. Here, in their own words, they share what their Owyhee adventure meant to them.

Chad Brown in Oregon’s Owyhee Canyonlands. Photo: C. Brown

“This year, Soul River Inc. deployed youth and veterans to Oregon’s pristine and surreal Owyhee Canyonlands, a treasure that is still unknown to many. It’s remote, wild, deep dark night skies, red rock canyons, blue-ribbon brown trout streams and untouched land boasts natural conditions that have prevailed for generations. Soul River Inc. considers it our role to honor this land’s past, experience this land in the present, and protect it for the future. We brought together the young, curious minds of inner-city youth and the wise, spirited minds of veterans to experience this vast landscape together and forge mentorships that can last a lifetime. Participants explored and came to know this uncharted desert ecosystem through fly fishing, camping and hiking, while also building leadership skills, learning how to advocate for places and issues we care about, and the importance of protecting our shared public lands.”
~Chad Brown, Founder and President, Soul River Inc.

It is so tranquil and healing to experience nature like the Owyhee Canyonlands. I am so grateful to be able to be here right now. Everyone could find something to do here. This is a great area for bird watching, photography, fishing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, camping, hiking, climbing, boating, relaxing…the list goes on and on. The more people who spend time here, the more people there are who care. I encourage you to experience this place in all its glory, too.”
~ McKenna Erickson, 19, Portland, Ore.

“What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word “desert”? Possibly something along the lines of scorching, desolate, nothingness. However, I can tell you first hand that the Owyhee Canyonlands are nothing of the sort. In the spot I’m currently sitting, there is a marriage of different sounds. Running water trickling down the stream, wind blowing gracefully though the leaves, all kinds of birds singing their songs, and the occasional buzzing of wings in your ear. You’re able to view a vast section of the sky all at once. And not only can you see a ton of stars, shooting stars, planets, and roaming satellites, but it even gets dark enough to see the clouds of the milky way, our galaxy. The Owyhee – the grand, high-rising rock formations that surround you – needs to be protected. Because once it’s gone, we can never get it back.
~Sofina Gilbert, Portland, Ore.

“The Owyhee – where you can hear birds, the leaves rustling in the wind, and the river flowing. Imagine looking around and seeing only the vast rock structures along with the trees surrounding you. Imagine falling asleep looking at the star-filled sky and waking up to butterflies floating over a family of wild turkey crossing the road next to you. This place is the Owyhee.”
~Andre Tharp, Portland, Ore.

All blog photos: Chad Brown