Fund drive secures ownership of 1,200 prime acres in valley
The Methow Conservancy has closed the purchase of 1,200 acres in the heart of the valley that were part of the historic Sunny M Ranch, thanks to a whirlwind fundraising campaign that reached its goal of $8.7 million in less than six months.
The closing happened on the target date of June 15, giving the Conservancy permanent ownership of a substantial tract of valley land for the first time.
The Conservancy said the campaign to purchase the property was driven by the desire to hold the land “on behalf of the community (both human and wild) in support of the following values: wildlife habitat, farmland, trail access, and affordable housing.”
Launched in late December 2022, the fundraising campaign attracted more than 1,500 donors, half of them giving to the Conservancy for the first time, Executive Director Sarah Brooks said.
“We knew this valley was loved,” Brooks said in a press release. “But we were humbled by the depth and breadth of that appreciation.”
Brooks said that more than half a million dollars came from gifts under $5,000, with an average of $400.
Held in 26 parcels of varying size, the Sunny M land includes the largest irrigated farm field in the Methow Valley, dryland fields, shrub-steppe terrain, forested uplands, and several wetlands, the press release said. The purchased land was originally part of the 4,000-acre Sunny M Ranch, which stretched from Wolf Creek Road to Patterson Lake.
In the late 1980s, Helga and Erivan Haub purchased 2,500 acres of the Sunny M Ranch, and remodeled the Sun Mountain Lodge. In May 2022, the Haub family sold the lodge, the Patterson Lake Cabins, and approximately 1,300 acres to GEM Partners. The remaining 1,200 became available, and the Conservancy made an offer, contingent on reaching the fundraising goal. The sale price was $6.2 million; the other funds raised are intended to cover related costs.
Brooks said, “Part of our goal in purchasing the Sunny M is to continue the legacy of Helga and Erivan Haub and keeping the trails, farming, and wildlife habitat we’ve all come to love available for the community. New projects, like the affordable neighborhood near town, will take some time, but we’re working on it behind the scenes and look forward to engaging with the community on it this fall.”
The Conservancy is in the process of creating a management plan with four major elements:
• Protection of vital wildlife habitat.
• Preservation of significant farmland including the fields along Wolf Creek and Patterson Lake.
• Providing the opportunity for housing that is affordable for people who work in the Methow Valley. The Conservancy is partnering with the Methow Housing Trust (and partners they may identify) to design a neighborhood close to the Town of Winthrop with housing that is permanently affordable.
• Making access to trails permanent through a partnership with Methow Trails: The Methow Community Trail, the Winthrop Trail, and the Barnsley-Bitterbrush loops are essential components of the Methow Valley’s recreation-based economy.
Donations are still being accepted to help fund maintenance and upkeep. A long-term Stewardship & Maintenance Fund has been established, seeded with a $500,000 gift from Helga Haub, and boosted by a $250,000 Challenge Grant from the Lucky Seven Foundation, whose founders, Frances and Manson Backus, owned the Sunny M Ranch in the 1940s, according to the press release. The fund will cover things like property taxes, infrastructure maintenance on the barn and other buildings, weed control, forest management, fence repair, and restoration efforts to bring back native plants in key areas.
For more information, visit the Sunny M website: https://methowconservancy.org/sunnym.com
Sunny M events
The Methow Conservancy is presenting several free events related to its purchase of the Sunny M Ranch property:
• “The Wildlife of the Sunny M Ranch,” with wildlife biologist Scott Fitkin, on Sunday, July 2, from 4-5:30 p.m., starting from the Winthrop Town Trailhead. Walk some of the wildlife habitat of the Sunny M Ranch property and learn about the animals who call it home. Wear comfortable walking shoes and bring water, sunscreen, bug spray or bug shirt, sunhat. Registration required at https://methowconservancy.org/news/category/events.
• “The Sunny M Ranch Story” with Conservancy Executive Director Sarah Brooks on Monday, July 3, from 9-10:30 a.m. at the Winthrop National Fish Hatchery; and on Wednesday, July 5, with Associate Director Ashley Lodato from 9-10:30 a.m., also at the fish hatchery. Learn about the Sunny M Ranch property and ranch buildings. This is a walking tour of a portion of the property that is generally flat and fairly even, but it is not a paved trail. Wear sturdy walking shoes and bring: water, sun hat, sunscreen, bug protection if desired. Carpool to the Winthrop National Fish Hatchery parking area if possible. Registration required at https://methowconservancy.org/news/category/events.