It must be said of the Methow Valley that there are no small dreams or lack of imagination when it comes to envisioning the community’s future. Big aspirations backed by community engagement have enhanced the Methow as a place to live, work and play for decades. The evidence is all around us in the form of facilities (the Winthrop Rink, Winthrop Library, Merc Playhouse, Methow Valley Community Center, proposed new community swimming pool), organizations (Room One, Jamie’s Place, Little Star, Aero Methow Rescue Service) and projects (the Methow Trails system, Susie Stephens Trail, Winthrop-to-Twisp Trail, RiverWalk, Homestream Park), along with many others that are completed or in process.
In that respect, the valley’s latest grand gesture is in keeping with the outsized goals a relatively small community is willing to accept and support.
In this week’s issue you’ll see a story on page A1, and a tabloid insert within the newspaper’s B section, providing details about the Methow Conservancy’s bid to buy 1,200 prime Methow acres from a longtime valley benefactor, the Haub family — which until recently owned the Sun Mountain Lodge. At this point, it’s an agreement to purchase, dependent on the Conservancy raising enough money to complete the sale. Hence the $4 million fundraising drive the Conservancy is launching this week, commensurate with the purchase agreement announcement.
We’re all familiar with the property, which was broken off from the sale of Sun Mountain Lodge earlier this year (the lodge retains 1,300 acres of the Haubs’ former holdings). We drive through it, bike, hike and ski it, farm it, just plain enjoy looking at, likely without giving much thought to who owns it — and probably taking for granted that it would not change dramatically. We need periodic reminders not to do that.
The Conservancy’s proposed purchase is not intended to eliminate the land from use, but rather to ensure that those current uses — for agriculture, recreation and wildlife habitat preservation — will continue without the threat of development or disruption. The trails will stay open, wildlife protection will be enhanced, the irrigated farm land will continue to be used to its best advantage.
That said, the Conservancy suggests that one small segment of the property adjacent to Winthrop is ideal for the development of housing for local workers. The organization would sell the appropriate property to a developer — which could be a nonprofit such as the Methow Housing Trust as well as a for-profit developer — with the goal of providing close-in, affordable homes.
The Conservancy hasn’t been in the property ownership business. It raised funds to purchase the former Wagner Ranch property so that it could be deeded to the Confederated Tribes of the Colville reservation, and was the “bridge” owner of the Meadowlark trail system in Winthrop until the town received the state grant funds to purchase the land. So how will the organization adapt to stewardship of a large, diverse property whose use is of interest to many parties? By getting those parties involved.
There is likely to be some pushback, which the Conservancy anticipated in putting together a “FAQ” page on its website (https://methowconservancy.org/sunnym/faqs) to respond to possible concerns — among them taking potentially developable land off the market, and competing with other projects for finite community resources (replacement of the Wagner Memorial Pool in Twisp comes to mind).
The Conservancy is on a fast-track effort to raise the necessary $4 million to close the purchase by June 15 — a short amount of time to raise that much money. Expect to hear more about the campaign, and how to participate, in the coming weeks.
Bold? Absolutely. But also forward-looking, opportunistic, well-conceived — and risky. As Conservancy Executive Director Sarah Brooks noted, “This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to protect one of the largest ownerships in the Methow Valley and ensure it serves people, wildlife, the economy, and agriculture into the future.”
The Conservancy encourages us to “imagine the possibilities” inherent in its purchase of the Haub property. This may well be the valley’s best opening to make that happen. “Many mountain communities never get a chance to determine what the landscape near town looks like and how it reflects community values,” the Conservancy says in its promotional materials. “We do.”
Imagine the possibilities if we don’t.