« Return to this article

Know the West

Grass roots keeps town tiny


Nestled in a narrow valley at the remote north end of Lake Chelan, Wash., there's a tiny town that can only be reached by boat, float plane, or a hike over the North Cascade mountains. Now it will stay that way.

For nearly seven years, a developer threatened to boom Stehekin's size by almost 15 percent (HCN, 11/9/98: Even in the remote West, growth happens). Many of Stehekin's 100 residents worried that the planned condominium development was too big and intrusive.

"Scale is everything in this relatively unspoiled area," says Myra Bergman Ramos, a Stehekin resident.

The scale will remain small because in February, the National Park Service and the Conservation Fund, a national land preservation group, completed a $1 million deal to buy the land, preventing the construction of condos within the town's 459 acres.

"This is the best possible outcome we could have hoped for," says Ramos. She says the victory is proof of a grassroots effort that worked, and if necessary, "we can do it again."

The victory ends wrangling between the landowner and the Park Service over a possible land trade. Stehekin is a small pocket of private land surrounded by the 62,000 acre Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. Originally, developer William Stifter refused to accept cash for his land, saying he didn't want the federal government getting more land in the valley. Instead, Stifter wanted to trade for other public land in the area.

Conservationists say Stifter tried to force a lopsided exchange to put more land in private hands. Stehekin Alert, a coalition of local residents and environmentalists, objected to the Park Service trying to trade away land they say included sensitive wildlife habitat and wetlands. Following a flood of comments opposed to the swap, the agency pulled its land from the offer.

When the stalemate broke this winter, Stifter told the Seattle Times that he would accept cash instead of a land trade, because, after seven years, "I wanted closure."