Willow-Witt Ranch – History, Gatherings, Farm Stays and Restoration

Willow-Witt Ranch is a 440-acre gem in the Cascade Mountains, 12 miles east of Ashland. Nestled in a hidden valley, the farm provides a wide variety of agritourism and farm-stay opportunities that have achieved national recognition. Discover why Willow-Witt Ranch is a great place for hosting a family reunion or wedding. Settle down any season in the Farmstay Studio or Meadow House. Camp in a cozy wall tent cabin in the forest or bring your own tent from Memorial Day through early fall. The calm animals and livestock guardian dogs will bring a smile to your face and make any stay on this working farm enjoyable for all ages.

We headed up to the ranch to speak with owners Lanita Witt and Suzanne Willow about all that Willow-Witt Ranch has to offer.

Hi Suzanne and Lanita. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us again. We are excited to hear about all of your latest adventures!

It is great to have this opportunity to bring updates to the community. The gardens abound in lettuce, spinach, arugula and other greens for the Growers’ Market and the pigs are weaned and out to pasture! The warm weather has the meadows in full bloom with wildflowers and maturing grasses.

BW Frist HouseLast year when we spoke, you were just introducing the tented campgrounds. How did these go over and what has the feedback been?

As part of our desire to share this amazing place with others, we initiated a small campground. It has 12 private campsites in an open conifer forest; guests park their cars and walk the few hundred feet to the camp sites, making the camp experience quieter and more nature-oriented. We added the last of 4 furnished wall tents last summer. Two tents accommodate 2 people and the other two can sleep 4 and each tent has very comfortable beds with down duvets and pillows, tables and chairs, a small woodstove and netting to keep bugs at bay; the private wall tents are luxury camping at its best. The light-filled bathhouse is fully wheelchair-accessible and has hot-water showers. The campground also has beautiful open-air hot-water showers that are a hit with everyone.

The biggest news about our campground is the acclaim we have achieved in the last few years. It was named in Sunset magazine as the ‘most beautiful spot to stay in southern Oregon.’ Word-of-mouth popularity, along with great articles about the camp, brought us to a crunch point last summer; the sweet Cookhouse was just too crowded for a camp full of guests. After a lot of hand-wringing, a few apologies, and snowy evenings of brainstorming, we decided to expand the kitchen we had. We have now added an additional 24’ of space and have more than doubled the available kitchen facilities. We have a much more ‘professional’ space than before with new prep sinks, cutting tables, more stoves, bigger cabinets, 2 full-length 3-hole sinks, and another 3 bear boxes are on order. We retained the woodstove for evening and morning sitting, and for making s’mores. So far, we’ve had rave reviews.

Willow-Witt is starting to develop a reputation for being a great place for reunions and gatherings. What types of events have you been hosting and how far in advance are individuals planning?

We love hosting weddings and family gatherings; this land is perfect for a group to get away, yet be able to spend time together: sitting, hiking, cooking, singing, and celebrating. There is a trend for weddings to stretch into longer weekends, and our 3-day campground rental fits that model perfectly. This is the place for a completely personalized wedding or family reunion. We provide the space, a farm tour, and lighting; the couple or family can design their own space, activities, and meals. We are booking now for 2017 weddings. We have seven weddings scheduled between June 1 and October 15 this year. We feel that each wedding blesses the land with wonderful energy.

Some families for reunions have also booked a goat hike for the whole family. This is an option we make available, and must be planned in advance; it’s great fun to hike with our big goats, and they carry all the lunch to eat on a rock-outcropping with 360 degree views.

Suzanne & Lanita With Pack Goats 2You two have been actively living at and developing the ranch just over thirty-one years. What was it like when you started compared to today?

When we bought the property, the house and big barn were the only structures here… and both were in bad shape. The old road to the farm (the original Shale City Rd) was washed out, and people had taken to driving across the meadows and streams to get here. When we had the road rebuilt, the bulldozer sank in the wetland! What a learning curve. We met a man who had spent a summer here who had asked his mother to come visit him; she called it the most forlorn place she had ever seen, “Not even a bird singing.” Today the old barn is restored and hums with the sounds of goats, pigs and chickens. The farm house is rebuilt, and still sports the original roof. The meadows stay green until August as the water table has come up. We have fed and improved the soils and grow sweet, flavorful vegetables of all kinds (the types that don’t freeze… we haven’t changed the 30-day frost-free season). The farm is vibrant and alive with wildlife, is a birding hot-spot, and supports a rich diversity of plants and beneficial insects.

The greens we grow, along with the pork, goat and eggs we raise, are for sale at the Ashland Tuesday and Saturday Growers’ and Crafters’ Markets; we have a year-round staff of 3 and add in additional staff in the summer, but there aren’t enough of us to attend the Medford or Grants Pass Markets. We now have an on-farm store where we sell all our products, along with market totes, tee shirts, and postcards of Dave Baldwin’s beautiful farm photos.

Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 12.11.18 PMWhat is the mission behind the work you are doing with Willow-Witt Ranch?

When we saw and fell in love with this unique part of the earth, we knew we wanted to be good stewards, and knew that we had a lot to learn about the property and its forests, wetlands, and water. We started by talking to a forester, and then took the Master Woodland Manager course through OSU Extension. We consulted with ecologists, hydrologists, geologists, hydro-geologists, wetland managers, rangeland managers, USDA Farm Services Agency, the Nature Conservancy, 1000 Friends of Oregon… and the list goes on. The picture that emerged of this amazing piece of land was a complex mix of subalpine meadows, seasonal wetlands, bone-dry hillsides, multiple springs along volcanic fracture lines, overgrazed native plant species, a few ‘species of interest’ in our botanical survey, and a multi-species/mixed age forest that was in demise.

In our 31 years of ownership and living on this land, we have worked extensively to recover the rich balanced diversity that this amazing property once had. And we want to share it.

We are beginning a fundraising project to ensure support for the continuing improvements we have put in place. This land is at a crest of the Walker Creek watershed that flows into Bear Creek; protection and improvement of this watershed is a priority. The land is halfway through a 15-year contract to restore 76 acres of wetlands to vibrant health; the stream banks that were previously eroded and lacking vegetation are now growing a rich mix of native grasses and willows, and are stable. There are ongoing expenses associated with wetland and watershed protection, such as fencing to eliminate cows, and we will be working to develop a permanent fund for the property going forward.

Our mission for this land is to improve the ecosystems in forest, meadows, and wetlands to maximize resiliency in a changing climate. We are known for the education we provide to children and adults alike about the values of organically-raised food, specifically humanely pasture-raised animals used for meat. In a world of big-box stores, it is increasingly important to know where food comes from, and to appreciate the complex web of food and the environment. We appreciate living in a community that places high value on healthy local ecosystems and organically-raised local food; we want to continue to spread that knowledge and appreciation by hosting school groups and families.

Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 12.11.37 PMI am excited to learn more about the hiking trails that are now available on the property. Are these just for guests?

We are right next to a great disc golf course, and to the fabulous Grizzly Peak Trail, so we used to direct folks there. Now we’ve developed three loop trails right on our property, with different elevations, and interesting attractions on each. We just had Darlene at Deluxe Awning make us trail markers; these will serve for hiking in summer, and as markers for cross-country skiing in the winter. Anyone can come up and go for a hike during our open hours. We are open for visitors (and hiking and birding) 11-5 every day; our Farm Store is also open those hours. We ask everyone to leave all dogs at home. Our livestock guardian dogs are suspicious that any dog might turn predator, and their only goal in life is to chase off any potential predator… and they will. Please check in at the Farm Store so our dogs know you are here; they might even accompany you on your hike.

The meadow house looks like a wonderful place to spend a quiet weekend.

Our biggest guest house is the Meadow House. This is a 3-bedroom/2-bath house on a private knoll overlooking 100 acres of wetland and meadow. As it is separate from the ‘farm central’ it is more private, and a little quieter. It features a wonderful kitchen, a large porch for sitting, and a lawn for lounging or lawn games. In the winter the Meadow House overlooks a wonderland of cross-country or snowshoeing fields. As the entire property is off-grid, the Meadow House has its own solar electric system.

Can you share with us some feedback you’ve received from customers about the property?

Word of mouth is our biggest advertisement, and we have great ratings on Trip Advisor and Yelp. We love greeting returning guests each year, and many families bring along friends or extended family to share in their experience. The Warren family says, ”We’ve had such a great time the last few summers we can’t imagine a summer starting without time on your farm.” Here are a few more:

“My friends and I LOVED our stay at Willow-Witt. The home is incredible, the property is beautiful. We will definitely be back! ” – about Meadow House.

“A wonderful farmstay! We brought our own tent, but loved having access to the outdoor kitchen and outdoor showers (best view from a shower ever!).

“This place may have ruined us for other camp grounds. We brought our own tent and camped, but the fully furnished camp kitchen (even had seasonings, oil and tea!), outdoor showers and immaculate camp bathhouse completely changed the experience from camping to glamping. We sat around the kitchen’s cast iron wood stove every night and had easily prepared warm breakfasts every morning while gazing out at the amazing view–all of this done at a leisurely pace because our kids ran down the trail to the farmhouse every morning to help with the animals.”

“The best vacation ever!  My husband and I went with our kids and the only words to describe the week we spent there was MAGICAL….. it was one of the most relaxing vacations ever.  I can’t recommend it enough.”

Any exciting events coming up in the near future?

PARTY! Put Sunday, July 31, on your calendar. We’re having a party from 4pm-9pm. LEFT will play, and we will have 2-3 food trucks, wine and beer, and dancing. It is usually 20 degrees cooler up here in the summer!

Watch our website, too, as we may host other special events or sponsored hikes.

Do you have any last comments you’d like to share with our readers?

We appreciate our community and all the support we have received through the years. We look forward to planning for investment in the future of this special place in the world. If you would like more information, please contact us. We’d love to see everyone up and dancing and dining, or hiking at Willow-Witt Ranch this summer.

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Shields Bialasik

Hi, I am Shields. I am the creator or LocalsGuide. The mission or my company is to provide a positive media platform for my community which in turn makes it stronger and more resilient. I hope you will enjoy and feel inspired to start your own LocalsGuide in your town or community.

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