Methow Valley News, October 24, 2018

FOWL’s next priority: site for a new Winthrop public library



File photo by Don Nelson

Any popular activity quickly fills up the Winthrop library, particularly if kids are involved.

Pitch to Town Council asks for support


The tiny Winthrop library has the largest per capita circulation of any of the 30 outposts in the North Central Regional Library (NCRL) system. More than Okanogan, Twisp, Omak, Leavenworth – more even than Wenatchee.

All of that activity is jammed into a minuscule space that was never designed to accommodate all the things a modern library provides.

Since early 2017, the nonprofit group Friends of the Winthrop Library (FOWL) has promoted construction of a new library in town, and intends to raise the money needed to build one. FOWL has been working on a needs assessment as the basis for specific recommendations for the new facility. The group has conducted interviews, surveys and engaged in community conversations to generate ideas.

Before FOWL can go much farther, the selection and purchase of a site are top priorities, representatives of the group told the Winthrop Town Council last week. To be determined are when and how the town will participate in finding and buying an appropriate site. FOWL intends to fundraise the money necessary to build a new library, and then turn it over to the town to own and maintain.

In a presentation to the council, FOWL project manager Rachel Macmorran said that the former ranger station the library is now housed in — one of several library locations over the years — was never meant to be a permanent space.

“We love our library, we use our library, but we don’t fit in our library,” Macmorran said. The building is inadequate not only for current use but also for expected growth, she said.

Local challenges, Macmorran said, include the rural technology divide, limited public spaces for activities, and the fact that 30 percent of the valley’s students don’t have Internet access for their homework. Poverty is also an issue she said, even if free Internet access is available in spaces such as local coffee shops. “The price of a cup of coffee can be an obstacle,” she said.

Many advantages

A new facility will help bridge the technology gap, build community, strengthen the local economy, and increase learning opportunities for all ages, Macmorran said. “All the challenges can be met with one building that is barrier-free, democratic and offers something for everyone,” she said.

And, she said, a strong library “communicates underlying values” in the community.

As for a location, Macmorran said, the ideal site will be centrally located, visible, walkable and easily accessible

Macmorran said that fundraising for the new library would include a 4 percent set-aside for repairs. NCRL will provide maintenance, cleaning, and all the equipment and furnishings necessary. FOWL will work with the town and NCRL to determine the best management structure.

FOWL is being assisted in its needs assessment by Johnston Architects, a Seattle firm with strong connections to the valley. The firm specializes in library architecture and has designed several in the Puget Sound area. Ray Johnston, one of the firm’s principals, is acting as a pro bono adviser to FOWL, Macmorran said.

To get citizen input, FOWL will host a “community conversation” about what a new library should include on Dec. 9, from 2-4 p.m. in the Winthrop Barn. Johnston will facilitate that meeting.

Already, Macmorran said, “community buy-in is strong” and NCRL is eager to assist. “They’re behind us 100 percent,” she said of the regional library system. Ultimately, the goal is to begin construction in spring of 2020 with a completion date of spring 2021, she said. “It will be an object of civic pride,” Macmorran said.

Sequentially, Macmorran said, site selection and purchase have to happen before design can begin. The current site is not a possibility because of flood plain issues and other constrictions, she said.

Macmorran said FOWL is looking to the town for some indication of how it will participate in finding and buying a site. Town Planner Rocklynn Culp said potential major donors to the project “want to see that the town is invested in it … so the town has some skin in the game.

Sarah Berns, FOWL’s secretary, said that “the town’s buy-in is multifaceted and necessary for donors to get involved.” The FOWL presentation said that a demonstrably strong partnership among the nonprofit group, the town and NCRL will be necessary to successfully apply for potential grants.

The Town Council is beginning its budget deliberations for 2019 and funding for a site is expected to be part of the discussions.

Article originally appeared here

Methow Valley News, April 4, 2018

FOWL works to build a new library in Winthrop



Photo by Ashley Ahearn
Winthrop librarian Sally Portman has worked to make the small building a welcoming space.

Group gathers feedback now for fundraising effort later


Winthrop has a small but mighty library that has served the community for decades, but a growing number of people say it’s time for an upgrade.

The current building, on Highway 20 on the outskirts of town, is a former interpretive center and was only meant as a temporary location. The library is just over 1,000 square feet and is often filled beyond capacity during events.

“Having a free, public space that promotes learning and discovery and community is a critical piece that we’re urgently in need of in this valley,” said Shannon Polson, chair of the board of Friends of the Winthrop Library (FOWL).

FOWL is a group of volunteers spearheading an effort to build a larger, state-of-the-art, LEED-certified library in Winthrop. The group has been gathering feedback from community members as part of the needs assessment process and working to establish partnerships with the Town of Winthrop and the North Central Regional Library.

There is a feedback form on the group’s website,, where community members can share what they’d like to see in a new library.

“We want to hear from everyone who wants to share their thoughts and opinions on this,” said Polson.

Still early days

FOWL will be setting up small informational meetings to gather more feedback throughout this summer and plans to hold a centralized workshop and community conversation in the fall, before beginning to fundraise in earnest.

FOWL does not have a cost estimate for the new building, nor has the group completed any architectural plans, though they anticipate that the square footage of the building will need to be significantly larger than the current building.

“From community members we’ve heard that people want something light-filled, inspired and in scope with our local community,” said Sarah Berns, secretary of the FOWL board. “We’re all excited to build something that fits with the Westernization guidelines in this community.”

Berns said the library should be centrally located near public transportation and green space, with easy access for retirees and families with young children.

The town and FOWL have not agreed upon a location for the new building, though several are under consideration, including the library’s current location. A portion of that plot of land is in a flood plain and may not be conducive to hosting a larger structure.

Who pays?

Towns and cities in this area are responsible for providing and maintaining the buildings that house their local libraries. FOWL plans to raise all the funds needed to build the new library, and then give the building to the town of Winthrop.

“We’re very open to trying to help them find a good location and support their planning efforts so it fits with the vision we’ve crafted for the town through the comprehensive plan,” said Rocklynn Culp, Winthrop town planner.

Ongoing maintenance for a large building could add to the town’s operating expenses, however.

“From the other side of the planning coin there’s the logistics of that and how far public resources can stretch … There’s the bottom line reality of what our tax base is and supporting all the facilities that we’re trying to support,” Culp said, “but there’s a total willingness on their part and ours to work through those issues.”

The North Central Regional Library (NCRL) would provide staffing, materials, deliveries and infrastructure inside the building once it’s constructed, so those costs would not fall on the town.

NCRL oversees the operations of 30 library branches in Okanogan and four surrounding counties and has a 2018 operating budget of more than $14 million, most of which comes from property taxes.

The need

A survey of 147 Winthrop residents conducted by the town in 2017 found that more than half visit the library more than once a month and a quarter go every week.

“Winthrop has an amazingly high circulation. They are big readers,” said Angela Morris, director of public services for NCRL. Circulation numbers in Winthrop, with a population of 394 according to the 2010 Census, approach circulation numbers in much larger communities, such as Leavenworth and Cashmere.

And, judging by the survey results, there’s reason to believe that community usage of the public library would increase if a new building was built. One-third of the survey respondents who said they visit the library less than once a month said they would go more often if there was an “increased, more welcoming space” and a larger collection; 36 percent expressed a need for more programs for adults.

“The most important factors for maintaining health into old age are continuing to engage in community and ongoing learning,” said Marcia Ives, board member of Methow At Home, which helps people in the Methow Valley age in place. “There couldn’t be a more ideal location than a public library for the ability to support our aging population.”

In the digital age, libraries across the country are increasing their focus on community programs and trainings that help kids and retirees gain the skills they need to navigate today’s technology. In rural parts of the country, libraries can be an important access point for reliable internet connection. But with its two aging computers and limited gathering space, the Winthrop library struggles to meet the needs of the community.

“I want to have adult programs and I really can’t have them during the day when I’m open because it takes up the entire space,” said Sally Portman, Winthrop librarian. “We also need rooms for meetings and storage.”

More than books

Portman has been the librarian in Winthrop for 30 years.

“I love being a librarian because I love the patrons — they become family,” she said, smiling as she shuffled papers aside and turned on her computer before opening the library doors to patrons on a recent weekday afternoon. It’s clear the little library is a beloved and relied-upon resource for the community, in no small part because of Portman’s devotion, and the trust she’s earned over the years.

“I get kids here all the time without their parents but it’s not babysitting,” she said. “The kids know what to do. I think all the parents trust the library and the other patrons here so they’re happy to leave kids.”

For Rachel Mackmorran, an architect and board member of FOWL, her local library played an important role in her own childhood, which is a big part of why she’s volunteering her time to see that Winthrop gets a new library.

“I grew up in a rural area 10 miles outside the nearest small town and my family was poor. I was also very academically inclined but limited by those factors. I found my support in the public library,” Mackmorran recalled. “I walked there from school pretty much every day because it was where I could study and explore and be safe and be myself.”

Article originally appeared here

Omak Okanogan Chronicle, February 21, 2018

Winthrop ponders library expansion

Friends of the Winthrop Public Library hoist the sign, "No place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library" during the 2017 Twisp Fourth of July Parade.

Friends of the Winthrop Public Library hoist the sign, "No place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library" during the 2017 Twisp Fourth of July Parade.


WINTHROP – The Winthrop Public Library, intended to be temporary, falls 6,000 square feet short of the American Library Association’s recommendation for its valley service area.

The 1,000-square-foot building lacks 2,000 square feet to accommodate the immediate community alone, according to the ALA.

Then, there’s the issue of public space across the Methow, Shannon Polson said.

On a trajectory to develop a new, expanded library, Friends of the Winthrop Public Library has visited community groups around the region, gauging public opinion about the current space and the community’s needs.

Polson, the group’s president, said the assessment revealed a recurring theme: limited public space to serve Winthrop and the remaining Methow Valley.

The findings originated from “community conversations,” North Central Regional Library’s strategic planning survey, public comment at library events and the Winthrop town parks survey, which drew 147 responses.

Community needs

Students in the Methow Valley School District may not feel safe going home after school, a parent told the group during one of its community talks. Yet, the library closes between 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. on weeknights.

From Methow at Home in Twisp, Polson learned few public venues exist for the valley’s aging population to engage in meaningful conversation and continued learning, she said.

Then, there’s the population of remote workers and students who seek public places rather than coffee shops or restaurants to cut costs, Polson said. An area resident told of a student enrolled in an online master’s degree program who left the valley for lack of study space and access to public computers, she said.

During a Winthrop Chamber of Commerce meeting, Polson learned Red Cross volunteers who came to Winthrop during the 2014 wildfires had to meet outside because there was nowhere else to go, she said.

Library vision

Friends of the Winthrop Public Library’s vision for a future library includes a 7,000-squarefoot structure, possibly with bookshelves on casters to expand the space further, Polson said.

She envisions meeting rooms to host book clubs, study halls and public meetings, a makerspace for the working professional or student, a children’s area to probe curiosity and learning in a soundproof environment and a space set apart for young adults.

A makerspace could include 3D printers, programming software and audio and video recording booths, Polson said. Meanwhile, a children’s area could invite youngsters into the physical world with shapes, mirrors and activities to capture their interests, she said.

The group also hopes to increase the number of computer stations “significantly” and offer technology training.

Other possibilities include a children’s stage for performances, an interactive children’s science exhibit, a semi-permanent display of Methow settlement and Methow Tribe history, a memorial to Methow Veterans, a semi-permanent display of Nordic/Olympic history, an outdoor garden with library seating, a semi-permanent display of Methow ecology and a sustainable building with instructive displays, according to presentation notes.

An expanded space would also mean regional, state or national literary conferences, book festivals, writing workshops and the like could regularly meet in the valley, potentially boosting tourism, Polson said.

"I really, truly believe this project will really in a beautiful way transform our community," she said.

Once the community needs assessment has been finalized, the group will enter into a “robust” feasibility study, determining potential donors and foundation grants, she said.

Progress on the library’s development can be found here.


Methow Valley News, February 7, 2018

Winthrop Town Council scans the horizon, sees challenges

Informal workshop addresses issues, ideas, possibilities

By Don Nelson

The Winthrop Town Council is intent on finishing some things even as it looks forward to starting some new things.

At a workshop last week, council members said they would like to see more progress on some of the town’s biggest projects, such as the Susie Stephens Trail and the Riverwalk. The council covered a wide range of topics in the informal meeting.

Mayor Sally Ranzau, elected to the position in November, said that an advisory committee of downtown business and property owners has been working on ideas for the Riverwalk and that “they are progessing nicely … they are working together and it’s nice to see.” In the past, some property owners who would be affected by the Riverwalk had complained that they were not adequately included in the town’s planning process.

One project that is underway, Ranzau said, is that the town’s antiquated website is being updated and will be mobile-friendly. “It is a high priority and is being addressed,” she said.

As for the town’s “Winthrop In Motion” project to improve downtown mobility, Ranzau said, the town will soon post an online survey so residents can respond to proposals for improvements. A public meeting is also scheduled to review the proposals (see box).

Ranzau also noted that the Washington State Department of Transportation has installed a wooden railing in front of Three Fingered Jack’s at the four-way stop, to make the pedestrian ramp at the corner safer. The town has been seeking a solution to the unsafe conditions at that corner since last summer.

On other topics:

• The mayor reported that she and Twisp Mayor Soo Ing-Moody had been joined in a conference call by the Okanogan County commissioners to discuss the future of the North Cascades Smokejumper Base with Congressman Dan Newhouse. The base needs substantial funding to take care of necessary improvements and upgrades. Ranzau said she was encouraged by the discussion.

• Ranzau announced that the town’s longtime public works director, Rick Karro, will retire at the end of April. He has worked for the town since 1989. Ranzau said the town will begin looking for his replacement.

• The council spent some time parceling out assignments to represent the town on various committees and groups. Council member Bill McAdow said he would like to represent Winthrop at meetings of the Methow Watershed Council. Kirsten Vanderhalf said she would attend meetings of the Okanogan Council of Governments and TranGO, the countywide transit system. Council member Ben Nelson takes part in the Methow Valley Trails Collaborative. Council member William Kilby is chairman of the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee.

• Ranzau said the Winthrop Rink “is doing a great job” and “has been fantastic for the community.”

• The mayor said a proposed three-year operating agreement offered by the Winthrop Barn Association, which handles day-to-day operations at the Barn, needs more review and discussion. The previous 25-year agreement has expired.

• The town is still undecided on what to do with the old Public Works Department property on Bluff Street. A new public works building is now operational on Horizon Flats.

• Vanderhalf said she would like to see Town Hall fully staffed “so services are consistent in all processes and departments.”

In the audience were board members of the Friends of the Winthrop Library, a nonprofit formed to support library improvements including a new, larger building. The group’s chair, Shannon Polson, said the organization is working on assessing community needs before moving into planning and fundraising stages.

“We’re working on ideas,” Polson said. “It’s a vision that continues to develop. The current building is not adequate. It was meant to be temporary.”

Polson added that the library needs improved Internet connections to help in “cultivating and developing community literacy.”


Methow Valley News, January 10, 2018

The Winthrop Column

By Ashley Lodato

Sometimes the period after the holidays is a bit of a let-down, especially if you overspent, so I thought I would note some of the great free things that are happening around the valley, in case you’re needing a little reminder that daily life is still full of interesting options that don’t blow the budget.

First, did you know that there is a free shuttle bus that runs between Winthrop and Mazama on Saturday mornings, giving you access to a ski along the iconic Methow Community Trail between Winthrop, Brown’s Farm, and Mazama without having cumbersome transportation logistics? You can save time, hassle, and fossil fuels by hopping on the ski bus. Visit for more information. (OK, the skiing is not free — gotta pay for the heavy equipment and personnel to keep those trails groomed — but the shuttle is.)

Another thing to celebrate is the work happening regarding the Winthrop Library. Friends of the Winthrop Library (FOWL) has set to work at a blistering pace, with the goal of improving and enhancing the Winthrop library’s facility and services. Big-picture plans include a new building, with square footage that would meet the American Library Association’s recommendations for a community the size of ours, with an expanded book collection, meeting and gathering spaces, and resources that support 21st-century endeavors (such as accessing higher education, navigating increasingly complex options for health care, and seeking employment).

Immediate projects include programs like the free after-school Art Labs on Friday afternoons from 3:45 – 4:45 p.m., the March Poetry Slam, and the Late-Winter Essay contest. FOWL is also sponsoring a scholarship for Liberty Bell High School seniors as well as some literacy-related art residencies in the school through Methow Arts.

At the December Poetry Slam (sorry if you missed it — it was great fun), one of the contestants, local handyman Joshua Dodds, read an original poem referring to the library as the “truth-brary” (get it? “lie-brary” versus “truth-brary”). And the truth is, individuals and communities alike benefit from a thriving library, so please consider learning more about FOWL’s goals at

One final free event: the Second annual William Stafford Birthday Reading will take place on Wednesday, Jan. 17, from 5 – 6:30 p.m. at Trail’s End Bookstore. This evening is a communal tribute to William Stafford, whose Methow River poems were commissioned by the U.S. Forest Service in 1992 to reflect the landscape and spirit of the North Cascades. Stafford has a dedicated readership in the Methow Valley (for good reason) and his birthday will be observed by local poets reading his poems aloud, celebrating — in Stafford’s words — the “long party” that life is. Learn more at

Methow Valley News, June 28, 2017

Originally appeared: New Non-profit Looks to Improve Winthrop Library

New nonprofit looks to improve Winthrop library


Photo by Don Nelson
Volunteers and supporters of the Winthrop library gathered for lunch on Monday.

Funding expected to come from private donations, grants

By Don Nelson

Friends of the Winthrop Library, a new nonprofit formed to support the library’s expansion and enhanced services, was publicly launched this week.

Shannon Huffman Polson, president of the group, said it is completing its application for 501(c)(3) status as a nonprofit, and will have a social media presence including website and Facebook page as of this week.

Polson said the group will seek private donations and foundation grants — not public funds — to support community-oriented programs and to eventually move the tiny, cramped library to a larger space.

The group is working with the North Central Regional Library system, which includes the Twisp and Winthrop libraries, to come up with feasible ideas for improved services at the Winthrop branch, Polson said.

The group’s officers hosted library volunteers and Winthrop librarian Sally Portman for lunch at Mack Lloyd Park on Monday (June 26) to talk about the nonprofit’s plans.

Polson said the library is a “central and important place” in the community that should a welcoming space for everyone in the valley.

The nonprofit’s board has been meeting weekly since the first of the year, Polson said.  Other board members are vice president Pat Leigh, secretary Sarah Berns and treasurer Nancy Juergens. The facilities planner is Rachel Macmorran, and Alisa Malloch is the organization’s volunteer coordinator.

In July, the new group will begin soliciting community input through informal conversations with focus groups, Polson said, to begin laying the groundwork for future efforts. There will also be a larger community-wide meeting, she said. “This has to be a community project,” she said.

“We’ll do a needs assessment phase now, and a feasibility phase next winter,” Polson said.

The existing library, one of the most heavily used in the state, needs not only more room for its collection, but also more services such as computers, internet access and space for community events, Polson said.

The library is a community institution whose services “cross all economic and demographic lines,” Polson said.

One short-term goal is to see if hours can be extended at the heavily used Winthrop library, Polson said. For more information, visit