The brand new Liberty Bell Campground was in its heyday after the North Cascades Highway was completed and opened in 1972. (The site was former farmland that had been irrigated from a ditch pioneered by homesteader/miner John McKinney.) With 100 sites to choose from, water and electrical hookups, security lighting, flush toilets, and the only hot campground showers in the upper valley, visitors filled the big meadow located 3 miles east of the Mazama turnoff with trailers and truck campers.
In the 1980s, with the prospect of an Aspen-like ski resort down the road, the corporation that owned Liberty Bell Campground started converting the site into a private development of vacation rental townhouses. As with many ventures that were abandoned when the ski resort project finally gave up the ghost, the original planned development was eventually modified and renamed McKinney Ridge with a new mission: an intentional community incorporating the principles of cohousing.
Leyland Whittaker, innovative thinker and creator, had a vision for the former campground site that would honor his late wife Marilyn’s wishes to provide a diverse (age, income, interests) neighborhood for Methow Valley community members where social connections, a spirit of generosity, ecological principles and creative expression would be promoted among and between community members.
To date, Whittaker Farms LLC in partnership with Methow Housing Trust have completed eight homes out of 19 total within McKinney Ridge. The remaining 11 lots will primarily be market-rate housing with the possibility of one or two more low-cost housing units. Creative and ecologically-appropriate home designs are encouraged. The arrangement of the homes in a cluster with an intertwined trail system fosters a sense of living in a “village.”
McKinney Ridge follows the guidelines and principles set out by the Cohousing Association of the U.S. The common characteristics include relationships (neighbors commit to being part of a community for everyone’s benefit); balancing privacy and community (residents choose their own level of engagement); participation (decision-making is participatory and often based on consensus); and shared values (support in actualizing shared values and typically green approaches to living).
Included in the vision for the community is provision of on-site amenities that support well-being and creativity of the residents including a workshop, community garden, clubhouse, trails and agricultural opportunities.
Currently under construction is the “Berm House” — another of Leyland’s forward-thinking ideas. If you look off to the south side of Highway 20 about 9 miles west of Winthrop, you will notice an unusual building taking form with a wall of south-facing windows capturing sunshine, light and an incredibly beautiful down-valley view.
The Berm House will be the Community Center for the residents of the village. Activities will include regularly scheduled shared meals (prepared in a well-equipped, high-end kitchen), meetings, workdays, parties, games, movies and more. Mini-apartments complete with bath and kitchenette will be available for use by visitors of the residents.
The building itself incorporates intentional sustainable materials and systems. One of the highlights is the cross-laminated timber that is being used in the impressive beams and ceilings. The product comes out of a mill in Colville that has perfected the use of logs typically smaller than 8 inches that are primarily harvested from thinning and forest restoration projects.
Leyland describes himself as a “farm kid” raised on a dairy farm in southwestern Washington where he learned to think outside the box in order to fix, repurpose, and/or fabricate what was needed to keep equipment and operations running efficiently.