The Methow River is one of Washington’s finest streams, rising in near pristine condition in the remote Pasayten Wilderness of the North Cascades. After its descent from the Okanagan-Wenatchee National Forest, the Methow winds through the verdant Methow Valley, a spectacular notch of cold rivers, rolling foothills, historic towns and pristine wilderness areas carved into the rugged Cascade Range.
The Methow was historically diverted for agriculture along the river, but has more recently become the centerpiece of a recreational mecca for fly anglers, cross-country skiers, hikers and others. The Methow River has also been the focus of extensive habitat restoration, especially for imperiled salmon and steelhead. The valley itself has become an increasingly popular tourist destination, thanks to its outstanding scenery and the fact that much of it is protected in public national forest and wilderness areas with superb recreation opportunities.
In the heart of the Methow Valley, two crucial properties were placed on the market in 2018, putting them at risk of being subdivided and developed. One was the historic Wagner Ranch on the Chewuch River, the Methow’s largest tributary. The other was the Stafford Ranch, on the Methow River itself. Western Rivers Conservancy acted quickly to purchase them both, and then set to work on long-term conservation solutions.
In early fall 2021, we successfully placed a restoration-access easement on the 35-acre Stafford Ranch. That laid the critical groundwork for the Yakama Nation to begin restoration of salmon and steelhead habitat. The following week, we sold the historic 328-acre Wagner Ranch on the Chewuch River to the Methow Conservancy, which is now pursuing our shared conservation vision for the property.
The Wagner Ranch is an especially important piece of the Methow Valley. The property was one of the largest contiguous tracts of private riverfront ownership remaining in the valley, spanning 1.6 miles of the Chewuch River, where more than a dozen different salmon habitat restoration opportunities have been identified. It also adjoins a 14,800-acre unit of the Methow Wildlife Area, meaning the ranch provides prime habitat connectivity for wildlife.
The smaller Stafford property controls a swath of Methow River frontage on both sides of the main-stem and possesses a critical groundwater right that will allow the Yakama Nation to re-water dried side-channels and reestablish crucial spawning and rearing habitat for salmon and steelhead. The property is also bisected by the Methow Community Trail, which is maintained by the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association for year-round use.
In the case of both properties, and especially the historic Wagner Ranch, the efforts of WRC and its partners will help preserve the unique natural and historic character of the Methow Valley. This is a beloved place in Washington, drawing tens of thousands of visitors every year who come to hike, bike, cross-country ski, hunt, fish, climb and paddle, and who drive local economies throughout the year. Keeping these expanses of open space intact is a win for fish, wildlife and people alike.