Steve Joyce looks forward to the day when he can pull into the parking lot at what began as a mom-and-pop fly shop along the Yakima River and think, “OK, mission accomplished.”
“At that point, I can focus on the fun part of this job — taking care of guests,” said Joyce, the managing partner at what today is Canyon River Ranch, a 37-acre year-round destination resort that includes Red’s Fly Shop, the Canyon River Lodge & Grill, and a 20-site real estate development.
By guests, he means the burgeoning clientele who frequent the resort, located in Yakima River Canyon 15 miles north of Selah and 13 miles south of Ellensburg. They come to fish, hunt, and hike, to escape the hubbub of daily life, to find some peace and quiet, or to have a meal at the grill.
On this final Wednesday in April, Joyce and a staff of about 10 are winding down from “Red’s Rendezvous IX,” an annual three-day smorgasbord of clinics on everything from fly and nymph fishing to hiking, rafting, Dutch oven cooking, wilderness first aid, photography, paddleboarding, even something called a “Women’s Only Cast ‘n Blast.”
“We had over 500 people come through,” said Joyce. “A lot were from Seattle, but there were families from Ellensburg and Yakima. One guy came all the way from Oklahoma!”
It was working with people, and that’s what Joyce likes to do.
Growing up in Montana in the ‘90s, he was a fishing guide. He continued guiding while attending Carroll College in Helena where he majored in math and played football. He spent two years guiding in South America. He did seasonal winter work in the Seattle area, where he has family. While on a Seattle sojourn around 2000 he discovered the Yakima River Canyon, which was designated as a selective gear, catch-and-release trout fishery in 1993.
Coincidentally, the Robert Redford movie, “A River Runs Through It,” had just come out. Suddenly, fly-fishing was hot, and the upper 75 miles of the Yakima between Easton and Roza dams became famous as Washington’s only “blue-ribbon trout stream.” That was good news for Loman “Red” Blankenship and his wife, Marlene, who lived in the Canyon south of the Umtanum Recreation Area, and made a modest living operating “Red’s Fly Shop and Riverview Campground.”
“I started fishing here and became friends with Red and Marlene,” said Joyce, now 43. “I remember their ‘shop’ was a display case of flies, some tippets and leader, set up on the porch of their trailer. They also rented out pontoon boats to floaters.”
The Blankenships’ decision to retire in 2001 set the stage for what was to come. Joyce, in partnership with his uncle and regular fishing partner, Anthony Robins, and a Seattle friend, Richard Leider, bought out the Blankenships in early 2002.
From the outset, the partners had a dream. They called it “Project Discovery”— a three-tiered business that would include: 1) a fly shop and guide service; 2) real estate with lodge units and cabin sites; and 3) a restaurant. But getting permits from county, state and federal agencies to build in a sensitive environment (State Route 821 is a designated “Scenic Byway”) would take time.
And, because Joyce was managing partner, that meant living on-site, and convincing his wife Natalie, also a Montana native, that moving into the Blankenships’ old trailer in a canyon was a good thing to do.
“I told her it would be two years. But it was five years and two kids later before we moved. Fortunately, she likes the outdoors,” said Joyce. The family, including two daughters and a son, is now happily established in Ellensburg.
By 2008, permitting was complete and construction underway on Canyon River Lodge. The plan was to sell the 10 two-bedroom, two-bathroom lodge condos on a “fractional ownership” basis and divide the remaining acreage into nine lots that would be sold for vacation cabins.
Enter the Great Recession.
“People were not buying,” said Joyce. “We just had to manage our way through it. The lodge became a hotel during that time and earned a reputation as one of the premier resorts in Central Washington. People were still coming and having a great time — they just weren’t buying.”
Now, with a resurgent economy, plans are back on track. Business is brisk at the fly shop and grill. Red’s guides lead outings both locally and abroad. The lodge and meeting facilities (Great Room and conference rooms) are in demand for corporate retreats, and real estate sales are picking up.
So, what is fractional ownership? Is it like a time share?
No, says Joyce. Fractional owners hold fee simple title to their property. Those who buy a lodge suite are one-sixth owners. That’s 56 days (eight weeks) of use per year. Owners can work with other owners via lodge manager Kevney Nemeth, to move days around, bunch them together, or use more than one suite. Units are let to non-owners at $200-$350 a night depending on the season, and if they are available. There are HOA fees of $295 a month. That covers cleaning fees, maintenance, and utilities. All units have living rooms with gas fireplaces, full kitchens, and great views of the river and basalt cliffs beyond. The current price for fractional ownership is $99,000, and there are about 30 one-sixth units still available.
The cabin site component now includes 20 spaces on both sides of the highway. Nine Phase 1 sites are sold, though two are up for re-sale, but 11 Phase 2 sites were offered last fall. Eight remain available at prices ranging from $190,000-$330,000. Sites come with water, power and septic service. Buyers are asked to follow the “Cabin Design Book” provided by Seattle-based Mithun Architects when building.
“The maximum footprint for cabins is 1,800 square feet main floor and 1,400 upper floor. They can be as small as 800 square feet.” Joyce expects four or five cabins to be built this year. “Ownership interest is already higher this spring than any time before. We have recently closed lodge shares and cabin sites, and are riding the positive momentum to sell this out.” There is no Phase 3 planned.
Fractional or cabin ownership has perks: access to ranch facilities including pools, grounds, boat launch, and also wine from the on-site Syrah grape vineyard when available.
“Over the next couple of years, I like to think we’ll be there,” said Joyce.
That’s when Joyce will begin to focus less on development and more on people.
“Our goal at completion is to sell out, and also provide a comprehensive menu of activities that an entire family can enjoy. That’s the beauty of working in the recreation business — people are here to relax and enjoy themselves. They want to leave the stress and attitude behind. Between our great staff and this amazing setting, it’s pretty easy for us to facilitate that.”
How to contact Canyon River Ranch and Red’s Fly Shop
Red’s Fly Shop: 509-933-2300
Red’s online sales: onlinesales@redsflyshop
Driving Directions: Canyon River Lodge is located in the Yakima River Canyon on State Route 821 15 miles north of Selah and 13 miles south of Ellensburg (200 yards south of Mile Marker No. 15 on SR 821).