Mill Hill property will be transferred to town ownership
Following the precedent set with the Meadowlark Natural Area in Winthrop, the Methow Conservancy has purchased 144 acres of private property adjacent to Twisp with the goal of eventually turning that land over to the town for recreational use.
The Conservancy announced this week that it has closed on the purchase of unincorporated, vacant land in what’s known as the Mill Hill area, east of Twisp-Winthrop Eastside Road and north of Highway 20.
The purchase was made to ensure continued public access to the area, which is already popular with hikers, runners and snowshoers, the Conservancy said.
The Conservancy’s plan is to hold the property and help the Town of Twisp apply for a state Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) grant in 2024 to fund the town’s purchase of the Mill Hill acreage from the Conservancy. Grant funds would be available in 2025. If awarded, the state will pay up to 70% of the appraised value of the property, the Conservancy said.
The Mill Hill project is intended to emulate the process that created Winthrop’s Meadowlark Natural Area. The Conservancy purchased that property adjacent to the Heckendorn area in 2018 through a gift from longtime Methow Valley part-time residents Tina and Eliot Scull. In 2021, the town received an RCO grant of $444,000 to purchase the 139-acre property from the Conservancy.
The Conservancy’s Twisp purchase is following a similar trajectory. “The Mill Hill purchase was made possible through gifts from two families deeply invested in the Methow Valley who have a particular interest in providing amenities and opportunities for Twisp residents and visitors,” the Conservancy said.
“Previously owned by Redtail Development LLC, Mill Hill comprises approximately 144 acres of shrub-steppe terrain overlooking the Town of Twisp. Conservation values include scenic vistas, wildlife habitat, and public access to trails,” the Conservancy said in the press release. “Although no formal trails have ever been built on the property, several social trails have been well-established over many years, circumnavigating the lower hillside and winding up to several viewpoints. For many years Twisp residents and visitors have been using these trails for walking and running, as well as snowshoeing in the winter. The trails are an integral piece of recreation near the Town of Twisp.”
“We know how important it is for people who live in town to have access to free places to walk and get outside,” said Methow Conservancy Executive Director Sarah Brooks. “We’re thrilled that everything came together, and we had a chance to work with the landowner to secure public access.”
“I am excited for the opportunity that this purchase provides our community,” Twisp Mayor Soo Ing-Moody said in an email. “We look forward to continued discussions with Methow Conservancy to ensure long-term public access to this beloved trail within town.”
The deal between the Conservancy and Redtail Development LLC closed on Friday, Sept. 22.
Solving a puzzle
Methow Conservancy board president Benj Drummond said, “Helping Twisp secure more public open space is something the board and staff have been thinking about for some time. Mill Hill solves that puzzle beautifully. It’s a critical corner of the valley: a prominent elbow joint right at the nexus of the Twisp and Methow drainages. I only really understood that after seeing it from above. I’m thrilled to know that it is protected and will become a permanent community asset.”
Blue Star Coffee Roasters co-owners Meg and Dan Donohue said, “We are so excited by Methow Conservancy’s advocacy for and facilitation of the acquisition of Mill Hill. As both avid users of the Mill Hill trails, and as an adjacent business, we can speak directly to both our own delight in walking its trails and seeing its incomparable views, and to how many folks in our community enjoy and depend on Mill Hill for recreation and exercise. It’s thrilling to know that Mill Hill will become a public space for the enjoyment of all, for generations to come.”
Two acres of the 144-acre property at the base of Mill Hill are in the process of being annexed to the Town of Twisp. “These acres do not interfere with the public use of the property, nor do they interfere with the Methow Conservancy’s project.,” the Conservancy said.
The Conservancy does not plan to make any significant changes to the property. Issues like a long-term parking solution and trailhead will be addressed under anticipated future Town ownership, the Conservancy said.
In May 2022, the Conservancy gifted the 328-acre Hummingbird property — known for decades as the Wagner Ranch — to the Colville Confederated Tribes in honor of the Methow people. The Conservancy purchased the property the previous year after a $3.6 million fundraising campaign for that specific purpose.
Then came the Conservancy’s biggest leap to date: In June of this year, the organization purchased 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.
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 — plus land near Winthrop that has been identified as a potential affordable housing site.