The Hive of the Methow: The Buzz About Twisp
By Anne Erickson
In a travel landscape that’s increasingly focused on posting to social media and harvesting likes, Twisp is a welcome dose of authenticity. This town with a population of slightly more than 1000 is the heart of the Methow Valley, with its mix of old-timers and newcomers, ranchers and artists, all finding something special in the rolling hills, meandering rivers and a pace of life that predates hashtags.
Let’s start with that name, which was my first question when I arrived at the breakfast table at Methow Suites Bed and Breakfast, a homey spot owned and operated by Sandy Moody, a 50 year plus resident of the town. She explained that Twisp is a word from the Methow tribe that means wasp, or hornet. This town at the confluence of the Twisp and Methow rivers honors the meaning of its Native American name; it’s a hive of community minded activity.
The Methow Valley Farmers Market has been around since 1978, and it’s a good place to catch the buzz. I was as captivated by the social scene as I was the peaches, pottery and sourdough starter. In between the local growers and artisans sharing their bounty, friends caught up with one another as a bluegrass duo (two members of a local band called The Apostles) played fiddle and guitar. The Market is in the parking lot of the Methow Valley Community Center - be sure to go inside, you’ll meet generations of locals in the classroom photographs dating back to the early 1900’s that hang on the walls. You may also meet Mary McFaul, a volunteer who chats up the steadily growing stream of people who wander into the Twisp Visitor Center inside, asking about overnight accommodations and good places to eat. “It’s no longer a sleepy little town,” she said. “Travelers coming through from the North Cascades or Chelan are staying longer in Twisp.”
At the park next door to the Farmers Market a sculpture called ‘Beeest’ sums up this town’s ethos. It’s the biggest bee you’ve ever seen, by artist Barry Stromberger. It’s made from old cars salvaged from the Methow River as part of an effort to save local salmon. Twisp was recently designated as a Creative Arts District and there is all kinds of funky public art one can find while walking around town. Salvaging and re-use is a very Twisp move: the community did the same thing when they transformed a compound of neglected U.S. Forest Service buildings into a vibrant makers space and non-profit called TwispWorks.
Local Crafts and More at TwispWorks
Whether you're looking for locally made jewelry (Methow Valley Jewelers Collective), screen printed swag (Fireweed Print Shop), clothes dyed with locally gathered botanicals (Culler Studio), or - after all that shopping - a beer (Old Schoolhouse Brewing and Taproom), TwispWorks is your place. You’ll often catch craftspeople at work here, and if you miss them, Methow Valley Goods, also on campus, is a one stop shop for all things made here, plus creations from all over Okanogan County. I also solved a mystery at TwispWorks - there was a bag I had been seeing people carrying all over town. Colorful, waterproof and big enough to cram full of groceries (or farmers market produce.) I learned the Twisp Birkin comes from eqpd - pronounced equipped - a local manufacturer on the TwispWorks campus. Eqpd founder Jonathan Baker moved to Twisp from New Hampshire ten years ago, and the place inspired him. “This little creative valley, filled with old John Deere tractors and modern homesteaders and Olympic athletes, would be the perfect development ground” he said. Today his company employs 8 people and ships eco-conscious, made-in-the-Methow totes all over the world.
All this busy-as-bees creative energy had me craving some solitude. I hiked to Lookout Mountain, a steep 2.6 mile roundtrip to an old fire tower that affords a 360 degree view that includes the North Cascades and the entire Methow Valley, including Twisp. I got my bearings in the most beautiful way possible, and I got that alone time as well - there were only 3 other cars at the trailhead on a bluebird Saturday.
Recharged, I got back to town in time for the Twisp Fall Art Walk, a celebration of the town’s many galleries, artists and makers. It felt as if the whole town turned out for the event. Adults perused local artist’s work at Methow Arts and The Confluence: Art in Twisp and True North Letterpress, while kids made masterpieces of their own with chalk on streets that were blocked off for the occasion. Later, cowboys, retirees and barefoot crunchy folks gathered to watch a local band called Honey & the Killer Beez (of course) play classic rock on an outdoor stage. In the background, an actual rock bore a testament to time and place, with decades of years painted on it by generations of Twisp graduates.
Don't Miss Hank's Foods!
Kids from a home school co-op were holding a bake sale in front of the store when I stopped by. Fortified with a homemade carrot cake cupcake purchased for a 5 dollar donation, I browsed a wall inside the store’s entrance that’s covered with framed photos of more kids: 4-H members at the Okanogan County Fair, posing proudly with steers, pigs and sheep they raised, and sold at auction. The buyer listed on most of the photos is Hank’s Market (most locals call it that) “At first we were the only ones who bought the critters, we got the rest of the Valley to start doing it,” said Hank Konrad, the store’s owner. He estimates he’s spent around three hundred thousand dollars supporting potential future farmers at stock auctions.
There’s one more thing that’s hard to miss at this store besides the support for local kids: the dozens of taxidermied animals, mostly mule deer, along with a musk ox, a tapir and a lion, that stare down at shoppers from the top of the frozen food section. “You must be new here,” said a woman shopping for ice cream when I stopped and gaped. Konrad explained they came from the trophy room at his ranch, and they are there to illustrate the importance of hunting. It was the first day of a 9 day deer hunting season when I called, and he said it’s one of the busiest times of the year for his store. Farming, ranching and hunting are important parts of Methow Valley life, and at 75 years old, Hank Konrad plans on continuing to support the community that’s supported him and his businesses all these years. When asked what keeps him here he said his family and business, and this fact: “They finally consider us locals,” he laughed.
Rivers come together here, so do people. Past and present meet up here as well. I asked Jonathan Baker what makes this place special to him. “The old fashioned work ethic, the neighborhood block parties,” he said. “Twisp's true community is one that money can’t replicate or buy - a true value system of friendship and hard work.”
Located in the heart of the Methow Valley, Twisp is a dynamic center for art, culture and adventure, with a down to earth atmosphere and friendly attitude! For more on Twisp Washington, visit: www.twispwa.com