Large tract of land in Methow Valley popular with cross-country skiers to be sold
Sun., Jan. 29, 2023
An aerial shot of the Methow Valley’s cross-county skiing trails, including a portion of the 1,500-acre Sunny M Ranch, which is being sold this year. (Courtesy of Benj Drummond)
A large tract of land known for its cross-country skiing trails will be sold this spring.
The question remains, however, to whom?
The 1,500-acre Sunny M Ranch in the Methow Valley has for decades been owned by the Haubs, a family of German billionaires that has been the largest landowners in the Methow Valley since the 1980s. In addition to the Sunny M Ranch, the family owned Sun Mountain Lodge, which they sold in May. The Sunny M Ranch property is the remainder of what was once a 2,500-acre parcel around Sun Mountain Lodge, Patterson Mountain, Wolf Creek Road and the Barnsley-Bitterbrush area.
During that time, the Haubs have allowed winter and summer recreationists access, even encouraging trail development in the early days of the Methow trail system. The 1,500-acre piece for sale connects the town of Winthrop with Mazama, providing world-class cross-country skiing.
While the Haubs have agreed to sell the land to the Methow Conservancy for $6.2 million, the conservancy must raise much of that money by June 15.
“If for some reason it didn’t sell (someone) could develop it for houses. They could develop it for condos. They could put a golf course on it,” said Don Portman, founder and director of Methow Trails. “If that happened, there would no longer be a connection between Winthrop and Mazama. It would go away.”
For Spokane Nordic skiers, that would be a huge loss, said Tim Ray, race director for Spokane’s Langlauf cross-country ski race.
“The biggest thing is it continues to preserve that area for cross-country skiing in the winter and mountain biking and hiking in the summer,” he said.
“Anytime you can have land that might be turned into houses set aside for outdoor recreation, it’s a win.”
Spokane’s connection with the Methow runs deep. It’s the closest well-developed cross-country ski trail system to Spokane, aside from Mt. Spokane, and is a popular winter vacation spot.
The Haubs want the land to be preserved, said Sarah Brooks, executive director of the Methow Conservancy. And she’s optimistic enough money will be raised to close the deal in June.
“I think it’s too important,” she said. “It’s pretty much a keystone land to this place. I think the community knows that.”
Informal recreation agreements, such as was the case with the Haub land, were common practice in the Methow Valley and elsewhere. Large landowners, who were generally farmers, were as a rule willing to work with the community. As the population has grown and as real estate has become more expensive, driving up the incentive to sell land to developers and making it harder for conservation groups to compete, these informal agreements have exposed a patchwork nature of access, including in Spokane.
“This has definitely been, not a nail-biter while the Haub family owned (the land) but a nail-biter when you thought, ‘Oh what’s going to happen when they don’t?’ ” Brooks said.
“I’m convinced it will happen,” Portman said. “I think the community here really wants to keep that (land). They want to keep the open space. And they want to keep it as a trail. And those people who aren’t interested in skiing on the trail are interested in the wildlife habitat.”
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