“Public good with private means” is not a phrase often associated with real estate development, especially in the rural west, where development all too often means splitting old agricultural land into ranchette subdivisions or erecting sprawling log castle trophy homes built on a foundation of hubris. The 700-square-foot cabin on Summit Spring Ranch, Idaho, is neither. In fact, it’s precisely the embodiment of a new approach to development, one that aims to conserve, restore, protect, and model a lighter way of living.
The structure, also known as the Little Lost Valley cabin, was designed by architect Clark Stevens for investment company Beartooth Capital, whose business is built around finding neglected ranch properties, restoring structures, waterways, and lands, and selling them sometimes with conservation easements in place. Beartooth bought the property in Idaho to the east of the Sawtooths, which had no legal road access, and then put together a deal with the Nature Conservancy that added 623 acres to the parcel and access right of way in exchange for setting aside 1,960 of the 3,783 total acres.
Since launching in 2005, Beartooth has bought 25,000 acres, protected 13,000, and restored 37 miles of creeks and rivers.
“We find properties where we can fix flaws and restore rivers, creeks, wetlands and agricultural land,” the firm says. “We seek ranches that lack access, infrastructure, amenities and curb appeal and that have legal, title and other problems that we can solve.”
“They seem to be genuinely interested in land conservation,” said Jim Berkey of The Nature Conservancy told the Billings Gazette. “They walk the talk when it comes to conservation.”
The architect, Stevens, writing generally and not about Beartooth in particular, says, “At the inception our land conservation practice, we thought of real estate development as the opponent (or at very least our counterpart in negotiations) in the sustaining of human and natural habitats. Very quickly we saw the potential of linking increases in land value with land health. Properly located, patterned and designed, land development (which includes all working landscapes, not simply collections of buildings) we recognized as both economic engine for increased cultural and ecological health, and as a source of conscious inhabitants that would stay with the place with a new sense of stewardship, ensuring its long term vitality.”
The cabin at Summit Springs reflects this philosophy, and it was designed to attract a like-minded buyer – not necessarily an easy thing to find when the kinds of folks who can afford $4 million ranches in the middle of nowhere tend to like their second homes to spread out far and wide. But Beartooth is principled and patient.
The off-the-grid cabin is small but spacious, with airy sightlines that give you a sense of basin and range no matter where you look, from the open bedroom that comprises 40 percent of the structure across the living room to the kitchen at the other end.
“It’s a viewing machine,” Stevens told Mountain Living magazine.
Stevens takes pride in the framing of the scene. He and his crew created a 3D model of the cabin, placed it in Google Earth, and then manipulated it to find the best location and orientation. He then took a ladder to the site and climbed it to the height of each window to fine tune their placements.
Located about halfway between Ketchum and Jackson Hole, Little Lost Valley has public lands all around it – national forest, BLM, and state protected land. Summit Creek, a trout stream, runs right past the cabin and just had two miles restored by Beartooth. There’s already been in a rebound in the populations of brookies and rainbows. And with the next nearest structure five miles away, they’ll be your only neighbors.
Weekend Cabin isn’t necessarily about the weekend, or cabins. It’s about the longing for a sense of place, for shelter set in a landscape…for something that speaks to refuge and distance from the everyday. Nostalgic and wistful, it’s about how people create structure in ways to consider the earth and sky and their place in them. It’s not concerned with ownership or real estate, but what people build to fulfill their dreams of escape. The very time-shortened notion of “weekend” reminds that it’s a temporary respite.