We’ve seen the Firewise USA® sign upon entrance to the Wilson Ranch community, which includes the Freestone Inn; but, what it took to meet the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) criteria is the back-story of dedicated community members with the tireless leadership of Jim Gregg, longtime manager of Wilson Ranch and chair of the Firewise Committee.
Jim recently retired and he and his wife, Jan, were honored for Jim’s stewardship, hard work and vision by a small group of property owners on Friday (Oct. 2). The tribute took place at the site of the recently completed Firewise Demonstration Garden that Jim conceived and oversaw.
Okanogan County Fire District 6 representatives Alan Fahnestock and Dave Crosby praised the work the community has done thinning the forest, limbing trees, removing ladder fuels, creating defensible space around structures, and encouraging plant materials that are not fire-prone.
Marvin Sutton, manager of Freestone Inn, commented on the forward-thinking of Jim in actively seeing “needs” and getting things done. Other attendees who organized the event – including Pam Sheets, Frank Bosl, Caroline and Jim Tareski, Ken Rice (new chair), and Don Davidson (new manager) – spoke of Jim’s uncanny skill at forming committees and recruiting volunteers.
A little history: After the 2014 Carlton Complex Fire burned 256,108 acres and destroyed 353 homes, everyone in the Methow were once again reminded of the massive devastation that can result from an angry, out-of-control wildfire. Wilson Ranch property owners were among those who realized they actively needed a plan to get organized and find direction for their wildfire safety efforts. For many years, the Wilson Ranch Property Owners Association followed the guidelines of keeping property “natural,” but not necessarily Firewise. Backed up to Okanogan National Forest, there was no shortage of wildfire fuel.
Jim was the leader in researching how to qualify for Firewise USA® designation. He followed the NFPA guidelines to organize it, plan it, do it and then apply for designation as a Firewise community. He moved forward with engaging property owners, organizing committees, applying for grants, and digging in with the actual work.
The culmination of Jim’s work was his vision for a high-profile demonstration garden on Freestone Lake that reflects the deep commitment of the Wilson Ranch community to prepare for the ever-present danger of fire in our environment. The educational garden features botanical labels identifying native plants that are fire-resistant and make good choices for the Methow landscape. In addition, the selected species provide many wildlife benefits, including flowers for pollinators, nesting opportunities for birds, and fruit production for many animals. The four-year project began in 2016 and was completed this year through the efforts of dedicated volunteers, who continue to maintain the garden.
Freestone Lake was not always the soothing water feature that it is now. Its history is one of a gravel pit and a dump. Now with an inviting trail and native plantings all around, it is a favorite for residents and visitors alike. The path passes the educational garden and walkers can stop to read the commemorative sign about Jim and take note of the plants that are less prone to burn because of their high moisture content, lower profile, and/or have stems and leaves that are not oily, resinous or waxy.
According to the Firewise USA® website, there are five sites in good standing in the Mazama corridor. To maintain active status, work must continue throughout the year, volunteers, activities and hours must be documented, including a Firewise Day, and all reported through the Firewise website. It takes the hard work and direction of people like Jim Gregg to ensure the best attempt to protect homes from the indiscriminate fury of wildfire. I’m sure “retirement” doesn’t mean couch potato for Jim. He’s the kind of guy who will just “keep on ticking”!