High-end living on the ranch

YAKIMA RIVER CANYON -- What used to be the beer and weenies crowd here near mile marker No. 15 is now the syrah and steak set.

With the formal opening of Canyon River Ranch this summer, a 50-acre stretch of private land along the Yakima River is now a well-heeled fly-fishing paradise. When the trout aren't biting, owners and their guests can enjoy winemaker dinners, hiking and geology lectures.

Seven years in the making, Canyon River Ranch is a $10 million private recreational community surrounded by state and federal lands that boasts neck-craning views of the deep river canyon.

It replaces the old Red's Fly Shop -- a long-time landmark and motley collection of trailers and campsites that could draw several hundred raft floaters, picnickers and campers to the edge of the water on any given weekend.

With its granite and timber exterior and massive picture windows, the lodge is a more patrician affair. In the upstairs library, a humidor sits next to shelves stocked with books on fishing. There will be a gallery in the game room to showcase local artists' work.

Although there is plenty of land available for development throughout the canyon, Canyon River Ranch may be the last project on the riverfront, various officials and residents say. Its commercial zoning as Red's Fly Shop was grandfathered in under the new owners.

"Is it going to change the character of this part of the canyon? Absolutely," said Gary Cox, a nearby homeowner. "But I think the way most of us feel is that development was inevitable, so this is better because it's planned and it's sustainable."

Along with government-required upgrades to the septic and water systems, the developers are restoring native grasses.

"We have significantly reduced the ecological impact to that site," said managing partner Richard Leider of Trinity Real Estate in Seattle.

The price of admission to this new Central Washington playground is not recession-era fare. But the three partners -- all fly-fishing enthusiasts -- say it's affordable for their target market of westside residents looking for a second home.

Focus groups found that people were looking for a place relatively close to home that they would use about two months out of the year.

Ownership in the lodge is purchased on a fractional basis. A buyer gets deeded interest in one-sixth of a fully furnished two-bedroom, 1.5-bath suite for $154,000. That works out to 56 days. For the rest of the year, the suite goes into a lease program that allows the owner to charge rent. Owners can also rent their suites on their own.

Rental rates are $195 a night from Sunday through Thursday and $295 for Friday and Saturday nights.

The purchase price also includes an interest in the common areas inside and outside of the lodge -- the waterfront, trails, a vineyard and its production of syrah grapes, community kitchen, pool, deck and hot tub.

Nine separate cabin sites for more customized homes of up to 3,200 square feet are also offered.

The developers of Canyon River Ranch take pains to distinguish the concept of fractional ownership from a timeshare.

"Timeshares are really a prepaid vacation," said Scott Pearl of Windermere, the Realtor for the ranch.

But Canyon River Ranch owners can watch their real estate appreciate and sell it or pass it on to their children just like a home, he said.

Between the lodge suites and the cabins, Canyon River Ranch is about 40 percent sold, Leider said.

"That's where we want to be. Ordinarily on a project like this you want to be a quarter to one-third sold. We're ahead of that," he said.

Still, the overall market for higher-end vacation homes is suffering along with the rest of the real-estate industry, said Dick Ragatz of Ragatz Associates, a consultant to the resort real-estate industry based in Eugene.

"One of the problems is that consumer financing is not available anymore, which makes it difficult for people to pay cash," Ragatz said.

But, he added, the idea of fractional ownership is here to stay: "It's still a great concept. People like it. It's just a matter of pulling the trigger."

Leider isn't worried. The project is offering financing.

Plus, the three partners -- he is one -- all own a suite or a cabin and have a long-term vision for the community. The other two partners are Steve Joyce, originally from Montana, and his uncle Tony Robins, an orthopedic surgeon from Bellevue.

Leider said they also see their project as a way of honoring the man who fueled their fly-fishing fun for years before selling them the property: Red Blankenship.

A new shop and restaurant yet to be built will be called Red's.