Land trust becomes green developer

 

WASHINGTON

For 30 years, a ferocious land-use battle between conservationists and would-be ski and golf resort developers has been waged on 1,020 acres on the banks of Washington's Methow River (HCN, 11/28/94: Beauty eludes the beast: Washington's Methow Valley may avoid industrial tourism). Now, an end appears to be in sight. In January, the Trust for Public Land purchased the property known as Arrowleaf or Early Winters from the R.D. Merrill Corporation, after the timber company failed to obtain the water rights it needed to develop a 565-lot resort.

Now, the national conservation group is selling five large lots to private buyers, who must agree to build only one house per parcel, allow cross-country ski trails that cross the land to remain open to the public, and maintain the rest of the property in its natural state. If the Legislature appropriates the money, the land trust hopes to sell the remaining development rights to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, which has agreed to restore salmon habitat on the acreage.

"(This is) an enormous victory for not just the citizens of the Methow, but for all those who love nature and wildlife," says Vicky Welch, one of the founders of the Methow Valley Citizens Council, a nonprofit that led the opposition to development.

But the deal may still not go through. The Trust borrowed millions of dollars to purchase the land, and it only has until December to pay back the loan. So far, it has sold only three of the lots, and unless two more buyers step forward, the Trust worries its plan could fall apart.

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