Support Local Journalism


Their business once served the likes of Mariners’ legend Edgar Martinez, world-class cowboys and their faithful clientele from around the Kittitas Valley when they ran the Rodeo City Barbecue on North Main.

They shifted gears to the catering business and hunkered down during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. But all the while, Leann Adams was working on a new dream out on Charlton Road and now it’s ready to launch into a destination resort.

“One of my favorite parts of Rodeo City Barbecue was the catering,” Adams said. “Now, I have a new dream of having people come to us at a destination venue where we can serve friends and family.”

The 200-acre Sweetwater Ranch sits against the foothills of the Kittitas Valley surrounded by majestic pines and aspens, with peaceful creeks and green meadows, making it the perfect location for unique weddings, receptions, family reunions, and celebrations of all kinds. A place where people can step aside from city life and take a good breath of fresh country air in a rustic environment where people around here call home.

Adams said it’s been a series of baby steps, acquiring permits and laying the groundwork. But they’re ready to standup and run, having already hosted the Gold Buckle Club event last Labor Day Weekend with some 700 guests.

The dream is busting at the seems and the potential on the 200-acre site seems endless. Sweetwater Ranch has already booked weddings on every Saturday in June, July, August and September of 2022 and is rapidly becoming the place for new and unique experiences.

“There is so much land and so much potential. I want to have something different and unique,” Adams said. “Someplace where people can have their dream wedding, a place where they have a family reunion to remember.

“We hope to one day have cabins or something where people can come and stay. We’re looking at the idea of having live music and bands come out and play. We have a lot of different ideas. I love winter weddings and Christmas. We’re thinking about having winter hay rides, maybe cross country skiing or snowmobiles. There’s no neighbors near by to bother and so much land to enjoy.”

One unique idea is the thought of having a small bison herd, giving guests and area residents a taste of what it used to be like a couple hundred years ago.

“State representative Tom Dent raises buffalo and we’ve talked with him about it,” Adams said. “He said to start off with two or three, so we’re thinking about that. I want to have things that define our area, deer or elk, maybe. We have a flock of turkeys that walks through our property every day.

“All of our décor is antique, rustic, a lot of collectibles from estate sales around the area.”

The story about Frank and Charlot Beard’s wagon is just too good not to tell. Adams smiled ruefully as she thought back on it. As the story goes, she went to the estate sale and fell in love with the wagon that Frank used to ride in the Ellensburg Rodeo parade.

“I told them I’d pay whatever they wanted for it,” she said. “And they told me I had to wait until the next day where it would be available to the first person.

“I got up at 3:30 in the morning and went over and parked. I was the first person in line, but I had to run to the door to make sure.”

For anybody that wants to see a piece of Ellensburg Rodeo and Beard family history, it’s sitting in the yard at Sweetwater Ranch.

Leann learned early that anything worth having, is worth working for — especially if it starts as a dream. Her folks Bill and Connie Craig bought the Rodeo City Barbecue building in 1988, but it took almost seven years to transform it into the restaurant.

Four generations of family were involved in the restaurant over the 25 years that followed. Leann’s daughters, Amanda Ross, Kelsey Haney, Dakota Adams and Dalee Adams worked summers and part-time going to high school.

Kelsey’s children, Christian, Tyler and Waylon were all involved in the catering. Leann’s nephew Bennett Spencer worked his way through college with a summer job.

What was initially intended to be a five-year business plan before the torch was passed onto the next generation, turned into a 25-year run. Working hard together with the kids, grandkids, and now great-grandkids has been a lot of fun for Bill and Connie.

“I used to work for mom and dad. Now I work with them,” Leann said. “My husband, Dave, has been a big part of this. Mom takes care of the plants. Dad does a lot of the repairs and work around the ranch.”

And of course, there’s the barbecue, made famous through Barbecue Bill’s meat rubs and smoke, enhanced with apple and cherry wood.

“Dad still hasn’t told me what’s in the rub,” Leann said with a smile.

Bill and Connie celebrated 62 years of marriage last Friday. Dave and Leann are moving into another phase of their business plan. The kids, the grandkids and now the great-grand kids have all the room they could wish for.

The Adams Family has something special they hope to share with the world, and it’s out on Charlton Road.

Rodney Harwood: award-winning journalist and columnist. Lover of golf and the written word. I can be reached at