Mike Volk took in the 270 degrees of monumental landscape in front of him with a sweep of his arm.
“There’s no doubt about it,” he said. “The view’s fantastic.”
He pointed out the landmarks visible from his yard, from left to right, starting with the Cascades on the horizon: Mount Bachelor and Broken Top poking through a clutch of dying junipers, and South Sister. He continued the tour through the foreground with The Christian Bros., Picnic Lunch Wall and other features of Smith Rock State Park.
Now that view is for sale, along with the 10.09-acre property, which lies just 130 feet from the park entrance, and its connection to the biggest names in sport climbing in the past 30 years.
Volk, 60, and Marcia Schoelen, 56, put the property on the market in September. Asking price: $750,000. Their home, a 1,782-square-foot double-wide modular home, is part of the package.
“We thought long and hard about doing this, but this is the direction we decided to go,” Volk said recently. “We’re at the point that we’re getting close to retiring, and we’re looking at not having as large a property to retire to.”
This is no ordinary sage-dotted tract of grassland. From the homestead on Northeast Crooked River Drive a patient observer over the past 40 years could watch the history of sport climbing unfold just across the street, on the park’s sheer rock faces and looming buttes, all world-class climbing destinations.
Volk, who for years ran a climbing school and outfitter, said he’d prefer to see someone buy the property and make it a home, but its size and zoning carry commercial potential. This tract is the size of just one large lot at the Ranch of the Canyons, a 1,700-acre gated community north and west of Smith Rock with homes modeled on Tuscan and Napa Valley villas.
While interest from prospective buyers in the Schoelen-Volk property is high, offers have been nil, thus far.
“I’ve had several parties interested in buying and developing it,” said real estate broker Anna Ruder of Total Property Resources, in Bend.
Ruder, Volk and Schoelen declined to identify any of the interested parties, but would-be buyers envision a wellness retreat, climbing school and a campground, thus far. “The location lends itself to a small lodge or B&B,” Schoelen said. “People approaching us have really great, low-key ideas.”
The Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation is noncommittal about purchasing the property, said department spokesman Chris Havel. “We are still thinking about it,” he said.
Ruder also contacted the Trust for Public Land, a nationwide, nonprofit organization with a Bend office, about the property. The trust facilitates purchases on behalf of public agencies, raising matching funds to buy property and sometimes lending staff to negotiate a sale, said Kristin Kovalik of Bend, a senior project manager for the trust.
Kovalik said she asked for more information about the property and for comparable prices for real estate in the area.
“We’re in the information-gathering stage,” she said.
Ruder said she priced the property based on its unique location. Sales of comparable property in the neighborhood, mostly rustic, single-family homes on large lots, some with horses grazing on them, are nonexistent, she said.
“I talked to some commercial brokers who say when you don’t have any comps to go with what you think people will pay,” Ruder said.
Smith Rock was becoming a destination for climbers from around the globe when Volk, a rock climber himself, purchased the property in 1983. From it, he ran Timberline Mountain Guides and a companion business, Smith Rock Climbing School, for 10 years. He sold them in 1992.
He recalled a day in the 1980s when five Volkswagen vans with 12 climbers arrived for an extended stay in the parking lot across the street from his property. “One guy was changing his clothes outside the van and a little old lady drove by. That’s how this became a campground,” Volk said, referring to his and Schoelen’s property.
Alan Watts, who helped popularize the climbing scene at Smith Rock and pioneered some of its routes, worked for Volk as a climbing guide for a couple years. “Pretty much all of us who developed sport climbing at Smith Rock worked for Mike at some point,” he said.
The Schoelen-Volk property became a gathering place for the likes of Todd Skinner, John Baptiste Tribout of France and Jerry Moffatt of Great Britain.
“The best-known climbers from around the world would stay in the trees back behind his house,” Watts said. “I lived there an entire summer. I just pitched a big tent, the summer of ’85.”
Development around Smith Rock has generated protests over the years. The Schoelen-Volk property is open to myriad uses under the Deschutes County zoning code, but only those consistent with the character of the neighborhood would likely be approved, said Cynthia Smidt, an associate county planner. Someone interested in running a campground or lodge there contacted her, but so far no firm plans for the property have surfaced.
In a multiple use agricultural zone, few uses are permitted outright. They include some agriculture, single-family homes and noncommercial horse events and stables.
A long list of other uses are allowed with a conditional use permit, including operation of a guest house, campground, bed and breakfast, destination resort, planned development and so on. Other uses, such as a cemetery, wood chipper or concrete plant, would not fit the neighborhood character and would not likely be permitted there, Smidt said.
A proposal that stirs public sentiment would probably go to a public hearing, she said.
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