From Guest Contributor: Stehekin Today
“We got it!”
My wife said to me out the window of our Jeep as she pulled into Purple Point dock. What she was referring to is a certificate from the Utilities and Transportation Commission UTC) to operate a new ferry service on Lake Chelan. I had just returned from guiding a three-night lakeshore hike from Prince Creek into Stehekin and had not heard the news. On these trips I have no form of communication other than for emergencies. My main concerns are which direction the campfire smoke blows and whether the rain water will run around my tent or underneath it.
When she told me the news I was relieved to finally have an answer. We started working on this project two years prior never thinking that it would take this long to figure out if we would be able to start. At this point I just wanted a “yes” or a “no”. We had spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars working on our plans; Applications, researching possible pitfalls, hiring lawyers to help us, and appearing in a public hearing. Now, finally “We got it!”
Starting a new business has many hurdles to overcome, but a transportation business has some extras. All transportation is regulated by the UTC in order to protect those that need the services from unfair pricing or loss of service. The UTC rarely allows two businesses to operate in the same area. So our first task was to apply for this permit, then convince them that it was necessary and good for the public. As a lifelong resident of Stehekin, I believed that it was necessary and we had received written support for our idea from almost all of Stehekin’s 90 year-round residents.
So what is this new service we are providing?
Eight months after my wife Lindsey and I got married, we moved back to Stehekin where I grew up, purchased a house and then decided we needed a way to pay for it. My backcountry guiding, while a ton of fun, was not paying the bills and we now had our first child on the way. We thought long and hard about what Stehekin needed most. Since Stehekin has no roads leading to it and the only ways in and out are by boat, floatplane or hiking then the lake is the biggest bottleneck that we face. Increasing this bottleneck is that for the last 90 plus years only one company has been allowed to offer ferry transportation on the lake. Then to make matters worse the floatplane that had been flying up and down the lake for many decades lost its base of operations in Chelan and was forced to close. That left only hiking as the second option. While I highly recommend all of the hikes into Stehekin, they are not feasible for many and not practical for most. This is especially true in the winter when there is 12 feet of snow on the mountain passes.
The services that are currently offered are on large boats for large groups and mostly during the summer. I have travelled on these boats hundreds of times and they served most of the needs for locals and travelers. However, this business is located in Chelan and we wanted to have a Stehekin based boat that was specifically designed to serve Stehekin. After a lot of research, we decided on an efficient catamaran design. My parents, Cliff and Kerry Courtney, own and operate a small resort in Stehekin called Stehekin Valley Ranch (a great place to stay if you like the outdoors, good food, peace and quiet). They are also advocates for additional ferry service to Stehekin. They agreed to purchase the boat and lease it to us. Looking back, I am not sure that they would do this again after finding out what a pain it is to have a commercial boat built. It took even longer than getting the certificate. Regardless, we have the boat now and it works great. It’s a 50’ catamaran designed by Kurt Hughes. We went with this design for its efficiency and smooth ride. So far we love the boat. It is highly fuel efficient and creates a very small wake. Wake was a big factor in our decision because Lake Chelan is so narrow the wakes from large vessels damage docks and erode the shoreline. They are also a nuisance to small boats that are out on the lake. The boat (SunnyJo) can haul 32 passengers plus crew and baggage. It takes about an hour and a half to make the trip out in the morning. There is a short layover at Fields Point before we return to Stehekin in the afternoon. We will stop at many private docks, campgrounds and trailheads along the way. Stops will also be made at Lucerne Landing which is the drop off point for Holden Village.
Our schedule is purposefully designed to be the opposite of the current service. We do not wish to directly compete with them, but rather want to offer a schedule that compliments their service. We also want to provide convenience. Folks travelling from far away can leave their homes at a reasonable time in the morning, drive to Fields Point in time to catch our 1:00PM run up to Stehekin, and get there at 2:30PM ( which gives plenty of time to check into their accommodations or find a campsite before dinner. )The same is true for the return trip. We leave Stehekin at 10:40AM and arrive at Fields Point at around 12:10PM. This this leaves travelers plenty of daylight to get to their next destination. We are very excited about this schedule and believe that it will be a great asset to locals and visitors.
It has been a year since “We got it!” and we are finally ready to begin. While the world has been gripped by a pandemic for the last few months we thought that we might have to push back our start even further. Even though nothing in life is certain, things in Stehekin are looking like they do every year around this time. Everybody is busy trying to get ready for summer. We are doing the same. If you would like to learn more about us go to StehekinFerry.com. Hopefully by the end of May things will be back to normal in this little mountain paradise called Stehekin.