By Isabelle Spohn
What has happened to the concept of “aloneness” in the Methow Valley? Public Recreational Areas, Policy No. 2 in the Methow Valley Plan (an addendum to the County Comprehensive Plan) states, “Limit development of access into dispersed recreational areas where a certain amount of ‘aloneness’ is necessary.”
Written in 1976 by citizens representing Methow neighborhoods from Mazama to the Lower Methow, this plan aimed to protect us from industrial-strength tourism in the face of a huge ski resort proposed at Early Winters. This advisory committee included both proponents and opponents of the ski hill, who then appointed a second advisory committee to continue their work into the future.
But the Methow Valley Plan has had only one partial update since 1976 — revised without an advisory group — and no one seems to notice. Considering recent trends, especially since the arrival of COVID-19, what is the current status of “a certain amount of aloneness” in the Methow?
Please reflect upon the recent excellent letters and My Turn columns in the Methow Valley News by these residents: Eric Burr, retired local North Cascades National Park ranger, alerting us to the increasingly dire snowmobile situation in the upper Methow; Mike Kutz, local mountain bike enthusiast, alerting us to the out-of-control expansion of the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance; Mary Yglesia, community of Methow resident, pointing out the ways in which the lower Methow and its less recreation-oriented population are increasingly dismissed as a part of the Methow River basin; Robin Baire, longtime valley resident, patiently explaining why the recent New York Times article encouraging more tourism in the Methow was disturbing to so many local residents.
Are these local viewpoints extreme? Consider the alarming global situation described in Aljazeera on Feb. 18 (“It’s Time to End Extractive Tourism”). The article highlights a world-wide increase of such tourism, particularly since the advent of COVID-19, as an escape technique for the middle class and for the billionaire class travel to multiple homesites. It states that the return to “normal” in the tourism sector also poses “a deadly prospect for the struggling host communities” and that “whole relationships between people, and between people and nature are shaped by the need to allow the paying tourist customer to do and be whatever they desire.”
Longtime residents globally have been forced out of homes and urban communities due to rising property values and tourism-induced gentrification.
Other local trends also concern me. Resistance by at least one large environmental organization to a recent county moratorium on subdivisions (in order to buy time to figure out sustainable water use in the valley) was alarming. Preliminary land use proposals and decisions are increasingly made by regional “collaboratives,” “user groups” and “alliances” before the local general public is significantly involved. Even our own Methow Valley Citizens Council, with deep origins and roots in the more agricultural Lower Methow, hasn’t had a representative of the Lower Methow on its Board of Directors since 2014.
The Aljazeera article suggests that tourism can remain an important source of revenue for these communities, but “control over how it is developed and regulated has to remain in their hands.”
How do we gain control over such huge issues? May I suggest just a small start within the next week? Be sure the county receives your written comments on the upcoming Comprehensive Plan by 5 p.m. on March 8. For information on testifying at 7 p.m., contact the Methow’s Planning Commission representatives Gina McCoy (Winthrop), Dave Schulz (Twisp) or George Thornton (Oroville.)
To increase local control, I will suggest that:
• Every single-family home be entitled to enough outside water to support a family garden and green space.
• Eliminate the prohibition against changing the boundaries of a “More Completely Planned Area,” ( which means a sub-area within the county) so that the whole Methow Valley down to the area of Columbia River Influence can finally be acknowledged as one river basin.
• An advisory committee should be appointed immediately to update the 1976 Methow Valley Addendum to the Comprehensive Plan. This committee should provide for advisory groups for the existing sub-units (A-D) as well as an additional sub-unit for the Lower Methow. (Definitions of “sub-area” and “sub-unit” must be clarified.)
• Delete the provision that members of advisory groups or committees must be landowners. This requirement leaves out longtime landowners who now rent due to increasing age, workers who cannot yet afford to buy property in the Methow, young people who still live with parents, school personnel and other essential workers who must rent their homes, and others.
Do we really want to return to the days of the “landed gentry?” And do we want to remain in a world of extractive tourism rather than accepting the responsibility for protecting this valley?
Isabelle Spohn lives in Twisp and volunteers with the organization Okanogan County Watch.