By Robin Baire
I’m writing in response to the recent “52 best places to visit” article in the New York Times. As a longtime resident of the Methow Valley, I feel the need to pass along to the author an explanation of why this piece has upset a lot of us. I believe you need to be presented with a deeper understanding of this powerful, fragile and beautiful land and the community within it.
Many of us were not born here. We were drawn here over the past 40 years or so, for employment at the U.S. Forest Service or the (now defunct) mill or simply from being enchanted by this valley and the desire to call it home.
It was understood that we would have to earn our way to this home, and we were honored to do it! Understood also was that we would need to learn from the generations of locals the intricacies of what was involved in a life here.
This valley would not be what it is today if locals had not put in the time and work involved with protecting and preserving it. The Methow Valley Citizens Council (MVCC) was inspired by the desire to prevent Sandy Butte from becoming a destination ski resort. Today it continues to be a vigilant presence, with hundreds of members, monitoring land use proposals as well as projects concerning wildlife, agriculture and community values.
This environment can be harsh. Summers require constant vigilance and care of your surroundings to prevent catastrophic wildfire. Wildfires will happen no matter what, but it takes an awareness and preparedness. Should your place be either protected or overrun by fire, you’d best go help protect your neighbors if you have the resources or ability.
Water is a limited resource. It needs to be used wisely with an awareness of the entire ecosystem that depends on it. With wells starting to dry up every year, we are concerned about growing beyond the ability of the land to sustain our population. Winter requires vigilance in terms of icy roads, frozen pipes, snow loads on roofs, and the acknowledgement that there will be power outages.
Local businesses operate knowing that deliveries may take a while; and not everything is available — and we’re OK with that. Business owners are our neighbors and know us, and we know that they have families and property here and very occasionally those take priority. In other words, sometimes the whole is more important than the individual.
The whole includes the length of Highway 153 from Pateros to Twisp and onwards to Lost River. We are Methow, Carlton, Twisp, Winthrop and Mazama — the mountains above, the shrub steppe below, the creeks and the river that runs the length of the valley.
For those who moved here during the pandemic (our population has increased by about 10% in less than a year), there is so much you haven’t experienced. Though you may have seen some of the divisions among us, that does not represent the community as a whole. This is a community where we step up to help our neighbors. We come together in celebration or to support those who have lost homes to fire or flood, or for those who have experienced some sort of traumatic event. We try to be as self-sufficient as we can be, and when we can’t, there is a good chance we can reach out for help, because we are always working to earn our place here, and acknowledge how fortunate we are to live in this amazing valley.
Articles like that in the New York Times (there have certainly been others) attract those who can afford a second or third home or generally live at the upper end of the economy. They have recently flooded into the Methow. Rentals, properties both large and small, have been scooped up. Valuations of property and bidding wars have priced out those who live here earning valley wages. Young adults who were born here are forced out for lack of affordable housing.
If you enjoy the farmers markets, we had better make sure we can preserve land and water for agriculture. While it’s great to be able to work from home and jump on a groomed trail for a quick ski, or hike on a maintained trail; remember that those things exist because of the people who maintain them, and they need to be able to afford to live here, as do the waiters and restaurateurs, grocery workers and the rest who make this place function.
We don’t want to live in a “Zoom town” — we are a caring and interactive community. If this is where you chose to make your home, we look forward to showing you what the Methow Valley is really all about (once the pandemic is under control, of course!).
Robin Baire lives in Twisp.