Marsha Ingham has long cherished the rolling wooded stretch of land known as Warm Springs Ranch or, simply, the dog park, that sits across Warm Springs Creek from her home.
She watched golfers play nine holes from her living room window and took an occasional whack at a tennis ball when the Warm Springs Tennis Club opened on the property in 1973. She compared the sleigh rides to a scene out of Currier and Ives and enjoyed gourmet dinners at a yurt that popped up there during winter months. She watched elk munching on big bales of hay placed outside the golf course pro shop, and she walked her 16-pound poodle terrier Jasper around the grounds every day.
So, Ingham was delighted when the Ketchum City Council expressed interest in an option to buy a majority of the 78-acre site to set aside as a public park after approving a 35-lot subdivision on 14 acres.
“When we lived in Seattle, we’d drive all day to Sun Valley, and the first thing we would do is go to dinner at the Warm Springs Ranch Inn. It was like a rustic cabin in the woods with a big rock fireplace and scones dripping with honey butter—so, old Sun Valley,” she recounted.
“Even today, it’s a great place that’s close to town for friends to gather, walk together and exercise their dogs.”
Since 2001, Ingham has worked on several coalitions through multiple developers to save Warm Springs Ranch as open space. This time, she has her fingers crossed that it’s a done deal.
The man behind the latest proposal is Bob Brennan, who came to the Wood River Valley 41 years ago and has developed numerous pieces of property in the Sun Valley area, including the Hyndman Peak subdivision, Pioneer Mountain Ranch and the Cottonwood Creek and Starweather subdivisions in mid-Valley. He tried and failed to buy the 78 acres that hug the bottom of Bald Mountain 25 years ago but succeeded in buying it in April 2020 as the Valley fell into the grips of the coronavirus pandemic.
While others have proposed such developments as a 122-room hotel, Brennan simply wanted to build 35 single-family residences where the tennis court and restaurant used to be. He’s already started building an access road to 24 parking spaces encircled by trees and berms for those accessing the 64 acres that he wants to remain public.
The road leading to the public portion of the preserve is being named Lopey Lane Road after Brennan’s engineer’s dog. The road beyond is named Sunrise, something Brennan’s wife came up with because the area is the first to catch a sunray in the morning.
Brennan does not plan on building homes himself. Instead, he is selling lots. And he says he’s already seen a lot of interest in the quarter-acre lots in the interior of the subdivision and the third-acre lots near the creek.
Escrow will probably close towards the end of 2021, he says, with construction beginning in spring 2022. “It’s an iconic piece of property, a valuable asset for the community. So, of course, you’re going to see a lot of interest,” he said.
The ranch is the largest piece of undeveloped land in Ketchum—one that the Wood River Land Trust’s (WRLT) executive director Scott Boettger has identified as necessary to preserve to maintain the character of the Wood River Valley for generations to come.
The WRLT tried to reach a deal with Brennan last year, but Brennan didn’t buy into Boettger’s vision of using the property for fundraisers and weddings to help pay for the upkeep.
“I want to keep it passive to make sure access is preserved for the public,” Brennan said.
The city has until October 2021 to raise $9 million to purchase the remaining 64 acres of open space. It hopes to raise the money through private donors and nonprofit organizations, such as the Spur Community Foundation, which has already offered to help.
Ingham remains hopeful. “It’s just a wonderful treasure for the community—so loved and well used,” she said.
HISTORY OF WARM SPRINGS RANCH
It was not a ranch but rather a farm in the late 1800s and early 1900s, according to Ketchum historian and author John Lundin.
Sawtooth Club owner Owen Simpson might be considered the first would-be developer of the land. He envisioned building a Las Vegas-style casino and development in Warm Springs Canyon after World War II. He and a group of Ketchum and New York investors formed the Sun Valley Realty Corporation and purchased the Farnlund and Weatherhead farms that lay between the confluence of Warm Springs Creek and the Big Wood River to what is now Huffman Drive.
After winning $12,000 from a New York gambler in a poker game, Simpson used that as his investment in Sun Valley Realty. The group began building the 50-room Devil’s Bedstead there in 1946. But when one of the partners died, the company went bankrupt, and the land was divided between the remaining owners.
Simpson got the property between Warm Springs Road and Warm Springs Creek. And he got the unfinished Devil’s Bedstead building, which he eventually moved onto Ketchum’s Main Street where it operated as a restaurant and office complex until it was torn down in 2004.
In the early 1950s, Simpson subdivided his land in Warm Springs, selling lots for $400. That might sound like a steal at today’s prices, but then, people thought he was crazy for asking so much since the land was so far from town.
In 1951, Simpson built an L-shaped log restaurant with fish ponds surrounding its deck on part of the property. He developed a nine-hole golf course in 1960 to get a liquor license. And he put in a rodeo ground with chutes and gates from Sun Valley Resort’s abandoned rodeo grounds in 1952. Simpson’s son Jack Simpson, whose rodeo moniker was the Sun Valley Cowboy, kept some of his horses there, along with a landing strip that he used for his outfitting and guide business. The rodeos brought crowds from all over for several years, but the rodeo ground was eventually transformed into the tennis club.
Owen and his wife Josephine operated the restaurant for several years and then handed it off to Jack and his wife Mary Lou, who operated it until 2004. Eventually, the golf course became a game reserve and elk feeding station. And the Simpson Family Trust sold the ranch in 2000.