When Carola (Carol) Woolsey-Mielke’s parents Vernon and Maria Woolsey first started leasing the ground that is known today as Haywire Flats in 1948, the property consisted largely of sagebrush. They started working to clear off the bench area and, after many late nights and weekends with the help of their family, transformed the land into productive farmland which would eventually come to produce wheat, barley, and oats. The Woolsey family purchased the ranch in 1959 and it has remained in Carol’s family ever since, owned today by she and her husband Ed.

After Vernon passed away in 2006, the property was not used for agriculture again until several years later when Carol and Ed’s son-in-law Lance Brown expressed interest in farming the land. Unfortunately, with the shape it was in, it wouldn’t be that easy.

Since the ground was last farmed, the sagebrush had grown back and inched its way back onto the property. Bull thistles and other aggressive weeds had taken over. Fences were in bad condition, with a majority having to be replaced. It took time and energy to revive the ground, but eventually the family was able to get the job done.

“In respect for all the hard work my mom and dad did on this land, we figured out a plan to reclaim the bench property and were able to turn it back into usable land again,” says Carol. “Just as my dad would have wanted.”

After turning the soil, piling, and burning piles of sage, wheat was able to be planted once again. Sine that time, the property has been continually sprayed for weeds, and the sagebrush burned to keep it from infringing back onto the property. The property carries up to 40 pairs of cows and calves each year during the summer, leaving ample grazing for elk and mule deer and open space for other wildlife that frequent the property in the winter months.

“This piece of beautiful Bitterroot Land has always been a part of my life. My mother and father instilled in me the love of the land – especially the Sapphire Mountains. My mom was a Holocaust survivor, and she was very much into the land and that it was your responsibility to take care of it.”

And, by making the decision to place the 258-acre Haywire Flats into a conservation easement, the Mielkes have taken care of the property and its future, forever. The Haywire Flats property was the last piece of the puzzle that created a 7,150-acre contiguous link of open land preserved by numerous landowners in the Burnt Fork neighborhood for wildlife, agriculture and future generations that begins on the foothills of the Sapphire Mountains and runs to Logan Lane on the outskirts of Stevensville.

The Mielke's

“When I was growing up, my dad and I would go ride the fences and check cows. We always ate our lunch in the shade of a huge old juniper tree, with Slocum Creek running close by. My dad would tell stories of growing up in the Bitterroot, and we would talk about life in general.”

In 2011, Carol and Ed hand-built a small dry cabin in that exact spot where they gather with their kids and grandkids often.

“It always seems that Dad is very close when I spend time there.”

Thanks to the decision of Carol and Ed and their family to honor past generations by preserving this beautiful piece of the Bitterroot, future generations will continue to benefit from this open space.