Thank you for taking an interest in the Sunny M Ranch! This is a working document that will be updated over time. As we learn more and make decisions about various components of the project, we will post the information here.
FAQ 1: I thought the Methow Conservancy didn’t own land?
Land ownership and conservation easements are a land trust's primary conservation tools. By owning land on behalf of communities, land trusts protect the conservation values of specific parcels of land.
While it’s true that the Methow Conservancy has relied on conservation easements as our primary conservation tool, we have actually owned a small amount of land for many years. Land ownership is the appropriate tool for a conservation project of this scale and scope. We believe that land ownership in the hands of a community organization is the best way to ensure that the ways in which this land has been used within the community (both human and wild) can continue. By owning this land, we protect current uses—wildlife habitat, farming, trail access—and preserve possibilities for other initiatives, such as supporting the local economy by providing land for housing close to Winthrop that is affordable for people who work in the Methow Valley (see FAQ #3).
As a 501c3 nonprofit organization, the Methow Conservancy is beholden to remain accountable to our mission in stewarding and managing lands for conservation and community purposes. Additionally, as a land trust accredited with the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, every five years we complete a rigorous review process demonstrating that we meet the highest national standards for excellence and conservation permanence and for strong ethical practices.
FAQ 2: What's your plan for the Sunny M Ranch lands?
Nearly all of the 1200 acres of the Sunny M are held as Conservation & Community lands. The Methow Conservancy Board passed a Resolution designating these lands as such when we make the purchase. The Board Resolution will outline our standards for ethical practices by identifying the primary management goals for the Sunny M Ranch lands and the process that must be followed in the event a change in use or management is contemplated.
Below are the guiding values and objectives that steer our planning for and management of the Sunny M Ranch land.
The Sunny M Ranch opportunity advances four core values: wildlife, farmland, trails, and housing that is affordable for people who work here.
- Protect vital wildlife habitat: Much of this land provides important wildlife habitat. It would also be in demand for high-end development.
- Preserve farmland: The fields along Wolf Creek and Patterson Lake are productive iconic reminders of agriculture’s role in this valley.
- Provide housing that is affordable for people who live here: There is land ideal for a small neighborhood near town.
- Make trail access permanent: 10 miles of beloved trails important to the Methow Valley cross these lands. We will formalize permanent trail access on the Methow Trails system.
All land trusts are required to create a management plan for property they own. We are currently in the process of creating a management plan that articulates our vision and intent for these lands, which will guide us in being responsible and accountable stewards of the land.
As part of our overall objectives for the project, we will make a small percentage—1-2%—of the Sunny M Ranch land available for housing that is affordable for people who work in the Methow Valley. This parcel will be sold or gifted with restrictions in place that ensure its compliance with values outlined by the Methow Conservancy Board. (See FAQ 3 for more information about the designation of affordable housing land.) In addition, there are a few smaller parcels with existing infrastructure that may be less well-suited to long-term management for conservation and/or agriculture. (See FAQ 9 for more information about these parcels.)
Additionally, although we have no immediate plans for the Sunny M Ranch buildings (the iconic barn, structures, and residence), we will be exploring options for addressing their restoration, use, and significant repair and maintenance needs. Because the management of buildings – including historic ones at that – is not our area of expertise, we will be looking at opportunities to preserve them as a community asset whether we own them long-term or not. When/if we get to this stage, we will hold a transparent and public process of seeking community input.
No departure from the values and uses outlined above is contemplated, but if we were to explore a new use in future, it would be in response to a substantiated community need. We would only consider a new use through a public and transparent process with neighbors and the community, as set forth in the Board Resolution and consistent with our obligations as a nonprofit organization to act in accordance with our mission.
2b) That’s a lot of acres for you to manage. How are you doing that? Through partnerships. We feel so lucky to have existing community partners who are continuing to do what they’ve been doing on the land, which contributes to our stewardship of the land. We don’t plan to become farmers, groomers, or builders. For example, Methow Trails is continuing to maintain and groom the winter trails. Other community organizations like the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance will help with the summer trails. The farmer who currently grows alfalfa on the irrigated farmfields is continuing to farm the land. And when the time comes, we’ll ensure that the housing that will be affordable for people who work here will be developed by the Methow Housing Trust and other appropriate partners. With these partnerships serving as a foundation, we feel confident about our ability to steward this land effectively.
FAQ 3: Tell me more about your affordable housing plan
As you know, we have a critical housing shortage in the Methow Valley, especially for housing that is affordable for people who work in the valley. The Methow Conservancy is committed to being part of the housing solution in the valley. We can best leverage our expertise and resources by making a small parcel of the Sunny M Ranch land available for housing. We are partnering with the Methow Housing Trust (and partners they may identify) to design a small neighborhood clustered near the Town of Winthrop and near the trails, with housing that is permanently affordable for people who work in the valley. The type and mix of housing will be data-driven, informed by the Winthrop and Twisp Housing Action Plans, the availability of water, infrastructure costs, public comment, the interested partners, and other factors, such as what housing needs are being met through other projects. We expect this process to take some time.
3a) Will the Methow Housing Trust build some of the houses? We hope so! We recognize that the Methow Housing Trust is another organization that takes a “forever” perspective on serving the community. The Methow Conservancy and/or the Methow Housing Trust may work with other partners as well. The property we make available for housing will be encumbered by covenants that will ensure that the scale, functionality, and aesthetics of any future development reflect community values and answer community needs.
3b) How many units are we talking about? We don’t know yet; however, we think the neighborhood will encompass 1-2% of the 1200-acre property, near the Town of Winthrop. We recognize that there is complexity regarding water availability for housing, so we are working with consultants to achieve the best community outcome possible.
3c) Tell me about zoning and water issues on the housing parcel. While we understand that there is complexity surrounding water availability for housing, we are optimistic that with community support, building a small, permanently affordable neighborhood will be possible. The community will have opportunities for public comment with any water right changes and during county approval of the project.
FAQ 4: It sounds like you’ll be taking away some buildable lots from the local inventory?
We are; however, the lots we’re removing would never be affordable for people who work here—they would be high-end homes perched on a bench visible from many locations in the Winthrop area or on other areas of the property that would be in high demand for upscale development. As part of our commitment to ensuring this valley can remain livable for locals, we will be designating a parcel for the Methow Housing Trust and, possibly, other partners to develop housing that can answer the needs of local families and workers. There are many details still to be worked out, but we are committed to the vision of viable housing that is affordable to people who work here, close to the Town of Winthrop and close to trails.
FAQ 5: Will Wes Hover keep farming the agricultural fields?
We’re very happy that Wes wants to continue farming these fields for the foreseeable future. With land so expensive in the Methow Valley, leased farmland is one way to ensure that farming can remain viable. We will place an agricultural conservation easement on the property so that it can be farmed in perpetuity.
5a) What happens when Wes doesn’t want to farm the fields? We’ll lease to a different farmer. Farmland is expensive in the Methow Valley. Leased farmland is a way for farming to remain a thriving part of the Methow Valley economy and rural landscape.
5b) Will those fields always be alfalfa? We don’t know, but they will always remain agricultural. Down the road a different farmer, or group of farmers, may want to grow something different, or a series of different crops. By protecting this land for agricultural use, we preserve possibilities for the future.
FAQ 6: What will happen with the ski, fatbike, and bike trails?
For 35 years access to those trails has been permitted only through an annual handshake agreement. You might know this property as the Winthrop Trail and Power’s Plunge area, the Barnsley-Bitterbrush ski and fatbike trails, kilometers 2-5 of the Methow Community Trail, and the riparian area just downstream of the Winthrop Fish Hatchery. We are thrilled to partner with Methow Trails to ensure deeded access to the trails, so that recreationalists can continue to enjoy these trails that connect Winthrop with the Sun Mountain trail system as well as with Mazama.
6a) Will you charge a fee for using the trails? Summer trail use will remain free. Although we own the land, we will not be grooming the winter trails. Methow Trails will continue to do that. We are like any of the 175 other landowners that Methow Trails negotiates access with. The Methow Conservancy will not charge an additional use fee; however, Methow Trails will continue to require trail passes for winter use, to cover their grooming and maintenance costs, which are significant (fyi—it costs about $1800 per night to groom the trails located on this piece of property alone).
FAQ 7: Will you change any of the trails or allow/prevent any different types of use?
Existing uses (summer bike/walk, winter ski/fatbike/snowshoe) will remain in place. We are in communication with partners like Methow Trails and Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance about best trail uses on the property.
FAQ 8: What wildlife habitat are you talking about?
Wildlife is abundant on all 1200 acres of this project, but in particular the Power’s Plunge area is home to many important species, as well as serving as a wildlife corridor from the valley floor to the upland terrain. The farmfields east of Patterson Lake are filled with important species. And even the areas near trails and homes teem with local songbirds, raptors, mammals, reptiles, and other local critters. By owning this land, we can ensure that the wildlife that is already a part of this ecosystem can continue to thrive.
FAQ 9: Will you be selling any lots?
Although it is our preference not to sell any lots, there are several parcels on the Sunny M Ranch that already have infrastructure in place and/or are located near existing residential development, and whose development as single-family dwellings would not harm existing conservation values on the property. If our Board determines the need to sell up to five of these approx. 5-acre parcels, we will always do it with covenants in place to minimize adverse impacts to relevant conservation values like scenic vistas, wildlife habitat, trails, or farming. For example, should trail access be in question for a particular parcel, we will permanently deed access to the trail before selling. Or, if there are scenic or habitat concerns, we will utilize restrictive covenants to protect the neighborhood character and limit development locations to specific areas.
FAQ 10: Tell us about the math for this project.
10a) How much did you pay? The purchase price for the 1200 acres was $6.2M. To cover the purchase price, transaction costs, and establish a stewardship and maintenance fund to care for the property in perpetuity, we needed $8.3 million by June 15, 2023. More than 1500 donors to the campaign helped us achieve (and surpass!) this goal. THANK YOU. Click HERE for a more detailed breakdown on the Sunny M Ranch campaign budget.
10b) Why do you need a $1M stewardship and maintenance fund? Caring for land properly takes money. A stewardship and maintenance fund will generate some revenue each year that will help us cover some of the expenses related to the property, like paying property taxes, insurance, undertaking restoration efforts, and other maintenance. Although as a nonprofit organization the Methow Conservancy has the option to invoke nonprofit status and not pay property taxes, the Methow Conservancy pays--and has always paid--property taxes on its owned properties, just like any other landowner. We intend to pay property taxes (approx. $25k/year) on the Sunny M Ranch parcels as well.
10c) I see that you exceeded your goal in your capital campaign. What happened to the extra money raised? We put it into our stewardship fund to ensure the property’s care in perpetuity.
10d) What would have happened if the Methow Conservancy hadn't purchased the property? We can't speak for the Haub Family, but we knew that they were divesting themselves of their Okanogan County properties. If the Methow Conservancy didn't buy the land, we believe it would have been made available for another buyer or buyers.