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About the Okanogan: The People & The Place

Naturally Beautiful, Rugged, and Down-to-Earth

The Okanogan stretches across North Central Washington (and Southern British Columbia), from the eastern shadow of the Cascade Mountains to the Kettle River Range. In between the ridgelines are vast stretches of wilderness—more than 3 million acres of public land—and a surprising array of bioregions, including green valleys that wend through sagebrush scented hills, grasslands rolling across high meadows, constellations of tranquil lakes, and mountains ringed with forests that whisper and quake in the wind. 

The Okanogan’s arid, inland climate can be harsh, swinging between the extremes of fire and ice. It takes grit to glean a living from the rugged and varied terrain. By necessity, folks live close to the land: first, countless generations of native peoples, then ranchers, farmers, foresters, and more. Also by necessity, no matter how far apart our homesteads, we live close to each other. 

Dense commercial hubbubs have their place in the world, but our commodities are priceless. In the sparsely populated Okanogan, we enjoy wide-open spaces affording us sweeping vistas, an abundance of wildlife, locally grown produce and meats, and ample opportunities to enjoy peace and privacy, both at home and in the great outdoors.Our economic centers are rural junctions and small towns connected like dots across country roads, where folks still acknowledge each other with a wave and a smile over the steering wheel. The Okanogan is a place where vacationers can slow down for a spell and recover their senses, and where those who feel called to can live simply, close to the land, and near in spirit with neighbors from all walks of life. 

 The Future of Life in the Okanogan 

It sounds idyllic, right? But to a few people it could sound like “Cha-ching! Dollar signs!” What we have here is an increasingly rare gem by West Coast standards. Big cities have a plethora of perks and conveniences, but the fact is that our city-slicker friends are working hard too, and when bright lights burn out, life in the Okanogan may appear as a rose-colored glow on the horizon. Slow though it may have been to arrive in centuries past, change is coming to the Okanogan.  

Change is good, of course!  As more enterprising souls (re)discover the Okanogan, they’ll carve out their niches and enrich our communities, boosting the local economy, creating jobs, and adding new layers of culture and convenience to our towns. Naturally, this will attract more settlers to the region, and some developers will be poised to make a fast buck by subdividing slices of heaven.  

Did you know that a single developer holds thousands of parcels in the Okanogan, totaling more than 30,000 acres for sale?  According to a relatively recent economic analysis, 53% of large ranches in the Okanogan Valley changed ownership in a 15-year period (1993-2008), and nearly half of those sales were to developers, investors, and amenity buyers. Meanwhile, the Okanogan’s waterways are being ogled by downstream users who would like to relocate or reallocate our water resources to more densely populated areas in neighboring counties to the south and southwest.  

Many of us have already witnessed the effects of shortsighted planning in other regions of the world. The results of reckless and unrestrained development include:  

· Overtaxed and polluted air and water;  

· Irreparable loss of farmland and fertile pastures beneath a sea of asphalt, pre-fab McMansions, and big box stores that squash local businesses and ingenuity;  

· The ruination of scenic views, the blotting out of starlight, and the driving/ hounding out of any semblance of peace and quiet;  

· Increasing conflicts between wildlife/ natural forces and sprawling human settlements;  

· Debasement of human interactions as we grow numb to each other’s presence, and slip into feeling anonymous in public.  

But the future is still ours for the shaping! Residents and loyal visitors alike are standing at the edge of an opportunity: we still have a chance to determine the fate of the Okanogan; to grow and develop thoughtfully, while preserving what we cherish about each other and this place. 

As the local land trust with regional scope, the OLT (Okanogan Land Trust) plays a key role in carrying out land protection in a way that resonates with the local community. Since its inception in 2001, the OLT has facilitated the conservation of more than 5000 acres, and counting!  And by safeguarding the stewardship visions of private landowners, we preserve a variety of public interests, too, including keeping property (with conservation value) in the tax base, contributing to our community's upkeep and services. 

Thank you for taking the time to peruse this website and learn more about the OLT.   As a member of the OLT, you can band together with friends and neighbors to preserve the unique qualities of life in the Okanogan, including our open landscapes, wildlife habitats, precious water resources, rural charm, and working farms and ranches. We hope you'll join us!