Two community institutions — the Wagner Memorial Pool in Twisp and the Winthrop Barn — were in the news last week for different but related reasons. In each case, the issue was: What does the future hold?
It’s a good question, and practical answers will be needed sooner than later.
Both facilities are owned by their respective towns, which are responsible for their upkeep and operational needs. At the same time, the Barn and the pool each serves the entire Methow Valley Community. They are shared resources that benefit not only valley residents but also visitors.
Here’s another good question: With so many users and so few residents/taxpayers to directly support them — 400 people in Winthrop, 1,000 or so in Twisp — what would be an equitable way to spread the costs of maintaining the facilities?
The Wagner Pool continues to enjoy the legacy of its namesake and benefactors, Ernst and Kathrine Wagner. The Wagners left a trust fund that provides part of the pool’s annual operating costs. But the fund will be exhausted in 2024, and the town currently doesn’t have the money in its budget to make up the difference.
As Twisp Mayor Soo Ing-Moody noted in a story in last week’s Methow Valley News, future support of the pool would ideally be a collaborative effort.
Ing-Moody pointed out that a broadly collaborative idea — a proposed parks and recreation district that would have generated property taxes to help fund facilities throughout the valley — was defeated at the polls in 2014.
Could such an effort be revived? I’d like to think so, but I also recall that the well-meaning, hard-working supporters of the parks and recreation district proposal took a lot of nasty, unfair abuse from its opponents. It was a good idea undermined by baseless claims and suspicions. If it had been approved, we’d be seeing some its benefits already.
The pool is more than 50 years old and aside from operational needs, it will have ongoing maintenance issues unless it is replaced. The Friends of the Pool organization has done a remarkable job of generating community support for the facility, but can only do so much.
There has been some talk of building an indoor pool, but it’s hard to imagine where the money for such an ambitious project might come from. There is the example of the Winthrop Rink to show how it can be done, with persistence, patience and community commitment.
The Winthrop Barn’s future came up in discussion at a recent Town Council meeting, where outgoing council member Mike Strulic urged his colleagues to support upgrades that would make the facility more attractive to a wider range of users.
We all appreciate the Barn for what it is — spacious, versatile, accessible and homey. With some improvements it could indeed accommodate more events, but the very attributes that make the Barn so lovable and welcoming also limit its potential at some point. It’s always going to be a big open space with difficult acoustics, lighting challenges and no permanent seating. The same could generally be said of the gym at the Methow Valley Community Center, another heavily used multi-purpose space that hosts a lot of community-friendly events.
The town is always hustling to keep up with the Barn’s operational needs — furnace repairs, a backup generator and the outdated sewage treatment system are some recent items that required immediate attention — but other pressing needs remain. The Winthrop Auditorium Association works hard to assure the Barn’s upkeep and fill it with activities, but like Friends of the Pool, the association can only be expected to do so much.
I don’t anticipate quick solutions to be forthcoming for either the Wagner Pool or the Winthrop Barn. But it’s encouraging to see people talking about them with an eye to the future and a determination to preserve the long-term value of these treasured community icons.