Meadowlark Natural Area

About the Natural Area

The Meadowlark Natural Area is located on a shrub-steppe hillside property on the east side of the Town of Winthrop.

In 2018, the Methow Conservancy, thanks to a generous donation from Tina and Eliot Scull, purchased the 146-acre property, which included 139 acres of rolling hillsides, shrub-steppe benches, and ravines used as wildlife corridors, as well as 7 additional contiguous acres adjacent to the Sullivan Cemetery.

The project offered two valuable opportunities:

1. To protect 139 acres of shrub-steppe hillside for its natural habitat, for its role as an undeveloped scenic backdrop to the Town of Winthrop, and for the sake of sustainable public access and enjoyment.

2. To secure an additional 7 acres (on the flat section near the current parking area) for potential opportunities for planned growth, as identified in the Town of Winthrop Comprehensive Plan as a future expansion area.

The 139 acres that we named "The Meadowlark Natural Area" were home to some social trails enjoyed by community members, but no sanctioned trails had ever been established; nor had public access ever been formalized. We hired professional trail builders to design and build 2.5 miles of walking trails that would allow users to experience the whole property if they wished. Designed to prevent erosion and offer a grade appropriate for running and walking, the trails offer excellent low-impact recreational opportunities in an ecologically smart manner.

Eventual ownership of the natural area by the Town of Winthrop was always part of the project's intent. In 2021, as planned, we sold the 139 acres of the Meadowlark Natural Area to the Town of Winthrop, which received funding for an open space park from the WA State Wildlife and Recreation Program. Town ownership of Meadowlark makes sense, since it is adjacent to the current Winthrop town limits. Today the Methow Conservancy, in collaboration with the Town of Winthrop, cares for the Natural Area and we work to manage it both for wildlife habitat and public recreation free of charge. We rely largely on volunteer labor to help steward the trails. Click HERE to learn about upcoming volunteer opportunities to help us work on the Meadowlark trails.

We retained ownership of the 7 acres intended for Winthrop's planned growth opportunities.

Read the 2018 press release about the purchase of the Meadowlark Natural Area HERE.

Visit the Meadowlark Natural Area

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The trails are open for hiking, running, bird watching, and dogs on leash. Photo by Heide Andersen.

The Trails

From the Parking Area (see map), there are 2.5 miles of trails that cross the hillside and offer outstanding landscape views. It is a spectacular place to go during the wildflower season, with each week introducing a new combination of species. With its location and aspect, the Meadowlark trails are some of the first to hike in the spring and the last available in late fall or early winter. The trails were built by and in collaboration with the Methow Chapter of the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance (although these trails are not open for biking).

The trail system is open to hiking, running, wildlife viewing and dog walking. Dogs are allowed on leash only for the protection of the wildlife inhabitants and for the safety of the dogs during periods when the deer can be aggressive.

For directions to the Trailhead, click here. For a map of the 2.5 mile trail system, click here. Please respect the neighborhood near the Trailhead and drive slowly!

Western Meadowlark A
Photo by Paul Pinsky

The Meadowlark Natural Area contains healthy diverse shrub-steppe habitat, as well as pockets of wetter areas that support trees with a diverse shrub understory. The Natural Area provides critical mule deer winter range, and important habitat for songbirds, small mammals and raptors.

For a checklist of the plants and animals you might see on a walk at the Natural Area, click here.

Ancestral Homelands

Since Time Immemorial, the Methow Valley has been the home of the mətx̌ʷu /Methow People. When the first white settlers arrived in the Methow Valley in the late 1800s, most of the mətx̌ʷu /Methow People were forcibly relocated from the Moses-Columbia Reservation, formed in 1879. In 1884, the Moses-Columbia Reservation was dissolved and most of the mətx̌ʷu /Methow People were moved to the area east and south of present-day Omak, becoming one of the twelve tribes of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

Others in this diaspora refused to enter the reservations and simply stayed or dispersed in the region. Even today, many mətx̌ʷu /Methow Families maintain a consistent presence in this valley. We are grateful for the mətx̌ʷu /Methow Families’ careful stewarding of this land and hope to learn from their example.

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Heckendorn History

Throughout the 1900s and early 2000s, the Meadowlark Natural Area was known as the Heckendorn property, as it was purchased and owned by the Heckendorn family for 120 years. It was once part of the Town of Heckendorn, which had a general store, a lodge hall, roller rink, and a movie house. Without a school or bank, it was incorporated into the Town of Winthrop in 1924.

David Eugene (D.E.) Heckendorn, also known as “Gene” or “Judge,” moved to Winthrop with his family in 1899. Along with his stepfather James Sullivan and his mother Louisa Heckendorn Sullivan, Judge took the train from Wisconsin to Coulee City and then hopped on a wagon over Brewster Mountain to the Methow Valley. The Sullivan-Heckendorn family was among the first non-Native settlers of the Heckendorn area and set up a log hotel to serve visitors to the area.

In 1903, four years after Judge’s arrival in the Valley he platted the Town of Heckendorn one half mile down river from the Town of Winthrop. It appears there was some competition between the two towns in those early years. Many early residents disliked Guy Waring, the owner of the general store in Winthrop, and so Dean Mclean opened up a competing general store in Heckendorn with more of a working-class atmosphere. In addition to a general store, Heckendorn eventually got a lodge hall, roller rink, a ballfield, and a movie house. Heckendorn never was able to get the institutions to secure its long term future, like a bank or school, and so in 1924 Heckendorn was incorporated into the Town of Winthrop.

Clarence Heckendorn, the son of the Judge, grew up in the town of Heckendorn, and was one of the first students to attend the Winthrop School. Apparently, Clarence had an aptitude for cutting firewood and would cut 100 cords every year. He spent most of his working life as a jack of all trades; riding range, shoeing horses for coal miners, digging wells, running a meat market and a dairy, and serving as a local justice (like his father). Clarence and his wife Mary had two children, Henry and Robert. Henry, “Hank,” the oldest became an engineer for Boeing and a later a member of the Washington State Legislature, as well as a lawyer in his own firm.

Hank’s younger brother Robert, “Bob,” graduated from Winthrop High School and went on to attend the University of Washington, after which he became an electrician in Seattle. Bob married Donna Winters and the couple had four children: Robert, Thom, Janis, and John.

Janis Haines, Bob’s third child and only daughter, remembers her father driving over to the Methow Valley to hunt or fish and explore the mountains with his father, Clarence and his son, Thom. “My younger brother and I were too little to join them,” Janis says, “so we’d stay at my grandfather’s house. After fishing Big and Little Twin, or Davis Lake, or Pearrygin Lake, Grandma would fry us fish in the morning for breakfast.”

“It was crazy,” Janis says. “My dad would drive five hours just to get to the Methow Valley, and then as soon as he arrived we'd all get in my grandfather's old car and we would head for the hills just to hear his stories and enjoy the beauty of it all.”

As the eastern backdrop to the Town of Winthrop, the 146-acre former Heckendorn homestead is visible from many parts of the Winthrop area and included substantial development potential. By purchasing the property to from Bob, the Methow Conservancy ensured that 139 acres of open space would forever be available to the community as a place to walk, explore, or simply sit and absorb the beauty of the property and the expansive views it affords of the valley floor and distant peaks.

Bob appreciated the proximity of Sullivan Cemetery, Janis says. The Sullivan and Heckendorn families were intimately connected, as Louisa Heckendorn Sullivan was the mother of D.E. Heckendorn (the Heckendorn founder and father of Clarence) from a previous marriage. Sullivan Cemetery opened in 1903, the same year D.E. platted Heckendorn.

“There’s a lot of family history in that cemetery,” Janis says. “We love visiting all the family. They’re all buried on the side next to the old homestead. We can just sit there and look up at the hillside, all quiet and peaceful and beautiful. It’s so lovely to have it in its natural state.”

Bob always told Janis that the phrase “Happy Trails” best captured his sentiment about the old homestead. Although Bob passed away before he could see the property developed into trails, before he could see people of all ages walking and running on the footpaths invite exploration, before he could see Heckendorn neighborhood residents walking their dogs or enjoying early morning strolls, Bob made a strong connection between “Happy Trails” and the trails that would eventually offer happiness to so many people.

Board Heckendorn Hike

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