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Schools & Program Visits - Jan, 2002 Issue #89 

Skyland Ranch
Dave & Chris Pitkin - Owners
Goldbar, Washington

[Kristie Vollar’s Visit on December 28, 2001]

The skies were bright as we drove the highway toward Goldbar, Washington. A beautiful drive through the valley displayed glimpses of the towering mountains surrounding Skyland Ranch. The mountains are very deceptive, creating a feeling of being at high altitudes, however, there was no snow on the ground this late December day.

We turned off the highway, headed up a small country road and pulled into the driveway of Skyland Ranch. The grounds of the ranch were alive with energy as a group of the guys were preparing horses for a trail ride with some of the local community members. Skyland Ranch owner, Dave Pitkin, explained that it is the only ranch in Washington that operates two separate businesses within one ranch: a horseback trail ride operation, and a ranch for young men aged 18 and older who are struggling with chemical dependency.

Approximately ten young men live at the ranch at a time, with each one’s length of stay determined by his level of addiction. Current residents range in age from 18-30 years, having arrived from various places around the world, though most are from the United States.

The residents have chosen to live at the ranch and have many freedoms upon their arrival, yet many have had to adjust to the structure and stark reality that they have to work for what they want. The guys I spoke with admitted the program wasn’t easy, but they enjoyed living at the ranch and definitely recognized they needed to be there.

When a young man first arrives at Skyland Ranch, he is encouraged to write letters home and can receive mail, but he is on “black out” for 30 days, which means no phone privileges and unless attending class, he must be accompanied by a staff member any time he leaves campus. This black out period allows him to begin the process of recovery on his own and helps him develop his new support network so that he can learn how to remove barriers that might interfere with his recovery. After the 30-day black out, the guys are encouraged to call home as often as they wish. The guys we talked to mentioned they call home about three times a week to check in.

Horses are the main component of Skyland Ranch. Each resident is assigned a horse to ride and care for. As his recovery progresses, so does his riding ability, and he often will graduate to another horse that better challenges his needs and personality. Each resident works with his horse every day, learning how to ride and train it. On the day of my visit, we met a guy who had never even seen a horse before he first came to the ranch. At that point he had been working with his horse for three months, and was doing great. Skyland Ranch currently has about 24 horses.

The guys at the ranch looked healthy and had a sense of pride, not only with their progress in recovery, but also in regard to their service in the community and their work at the ranch. Those who had been there for a period of time had clear eyes in contrast to the ones who had recently arrived, who looked a little shocked from the reality of the place. Dave mentioned that generally, the guys gained about 30 pounds within the first couple of months because their eating patterns were greatly improved at the ranch.

Each of residents at Skyland Ranch works with the staff to develop an Independent Living Plan. It includes plans for their maintenance of sobriety, additional schooling or employment while at the ranch, and techniques for maintaining their own checking account and learning to budget their money. Each morning the guys participate in a “morning meeting” where they read a passage, then discuss it in detail. Once a week, everyone on the ranch gathers for a residents’ meeting, where they discuss their complaints and give compliments to help them maintain open lines of communication by allowing the guys a chance to share what is going on with them.

The community around Skyland Ranch offers a lot of support to the guys at the ranch, and the ranch offers their facility to be used as a local AA meeting place. People come from the surrounding community to participate in the AA meetings that are held in a large tipi at the ranch, and they serve as sponsors for the ranch residents. Dave asks that each resident find a sponsor outside the ranch to help him with his recovery, not only to show the guys how others in the community cope with addiction, but also to give the guys a chance to meet with someone who supports their recovery, off campus. Ranch residents are required to attend five AA meetings per week.

As we walked around the ranch, Dave showed me the edge of the property bordering the Skykomish River, and the tipi where the AA meetings are held every Wednesday night. We walked up to the sweat lodge where preparations were being made for the New Year’s celebration, a time when everyone on the ranch as well as many community members would gather to welcome the New Year. Then walked down the driveway to a new addition, a large totem pole that had been hand carved and painted, displaying many animals that are significant to the ranch. Just beyond the totem pole was an outdoor theater where many of the community members and residents directed and presented plays, skits and musicals. The ranch is very spiritual, yet there isn’t a feeling of a particular religious doctrine. The ranch utilizes many Native American themes and traditions.

As we returned to the lodge, I met a guy who had graduated from Skyland Ranch after a two year stay, and was returning for a visit. He had maintained his sobriety and looked healthy. Dave mentioned that most of the staff who worked at the ranch were graduates of the program and that many returned to the area to settle and help around the ranch. After visiting with them for a little while longer, we decided it was time to head back to Seattle. I took one last look around at the ranch setting, I inhaled the freshness of the mountains surrounding the ranch and said goodbye. I had a good visit at the ranch.

For more information:

Skyland Ranch Long Term Addiction Rehab Facility

PO Box 1671 | Bonners Ferry, ID 83805 | 208-267-5550
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