Sharing Wheeler County with the World

September, 2017
By Anne Mitchell, Rural Economic Vitality Program Manager
Working for RDI is always an adventure. Working with amazing people in rural communities around the Pacific Northwest, a privilege. One of the fantastic things about our work in Rural Economic Vitality is that it takes so many forms. Every community is a unique and special place to live. I like to think of it as a tapestry that a community continues to weave together to honor its heritage and history, and support the institutions, businesses, and people of today, always with an eye on designing the colorful patterns for tomorrow.
A big part of the work in supporting community vitality is fostering opportunities to share their stories with the world. One of the interesting projects I spent a little bit of time on over the summer as part of my efforts in supporting rural tourism development and marketing, is working with the producers of a new PBS show called Samantha Brown’s Places to Love. In July, I spent most of a day wandering around with Kevin O’Leary, Samantha’s husband and production location scout, talking about the places and people that are special features in the tapestry of Wheeler County, Oregon.
The series will begin airing on PBS in January 2018, so they are out in the world shooting now. You may be familiar with Samantha Brown, well known for her friendly and engaging personality as a host on the Travel Channel for the past 15 years. She has recently formed her own production company and is creating a new program that diverges from the usual travel show itinerary of “to-dos” and “greatest hits” to seek out little-known spots where local people are creating a brand new travel experience. According to PBS, the program "will get to the emotional heart of travel by finding people who are changing, challenging, and strengthening a destination to deliver a decidedly refreshing and personal travel experience.”
The production team will shoot its Oregon adventure in early fall. Starting in Portland, Samantha and her husband and four-year-old twins, will visit with a heritage apple grower in the shadow of Mt. Hood, and travel east to spend a couple nights in the John Day River Territory. They will dig for fossils in Fossil, and spend the night at the Wilson Ranches Retreat B&B, a working ranch that hosts guests from all over the world to sleep in their Sears Roebuck farmhouse and ride with the ranch cowboys to help work the cattle.
Knowing they are looking for great little treasures, I connected them with local author/educator Mary Fitzgerald, whose family history includes four generations of schoolteachers in the tiny community of Twickenham on the John Day River. Mary has written four books about her family history and adventures in Twickenham and as pioneers on the Oregon Trail. She and her family have lovingly restored the one-room Twickenham Schoolhouse and invite travelers to come in and see how life was for school kids during earlier days. A visit to the colorful Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Bed National Monument will cap the day of shooting in Wheeler County, and they finish their Oregon journey in the Bend area.
We will keep you posted on when the show will air in 2018. It will be interesting to see how being featured on the show effects tourism visitation in these rural Oregon communities in the coming years!