The development in central Oregon now includes 625 properties on 4,000 acres in a gated community where everyone is off the grid. Some of the homes sell for several million dollars, and include all of the amenities of modern life, including air conditioning. Others are little more than shacks bought for a few thousand.
The basic power strategy at Three Rivers is self-generating solar power and storing it in batteries. Everyone uses inverters to change the DC power that comes out of the solar panels and into the batteries, into AC power in order to run conventional appliances. Many homes include back-up generators that kick in when the sun isn’t quite doing the job, supplying supplemental juice.
Is there solar power at night? “You have no idea how bright the stars are,” said Mary Johnson, 69, who bought property at Three Rivers with her husband in 1975 and moved there permanently in 1999. “No sirens, no trains. I would not live anywhere else.” Just an hour from Bend, this hodgepodge of upscale houses, mobile homes, outhouses and shacks has been defying the norms of life since the development began in the late 1960s.
Up until the advent of cell phones, the main mode of communication was CB radios. Some residents still have signs advertising their call names nailed to trees at the ends of their driveways.
“Hot lips. Bourbon 7,” one sign reads.
Three Rivers was one of the last places in Jefferson County to have named its streets. A quarter of the 40 miles of roads in the area still are covered in dusty gravel that billows into clouds behind cars.
But for the people who live here, the lack of utilities is a charm, not a drawback.
“The kids keep asking when we’re gonna stop camping,” said Ralph Johnson, 69, Mary’s husband. “But we’ve traveled all over, and this is the still the place we want to be.”
Three Rivers is near Bureau of Land Management property, National Grasslands, non-buildable rangeland . It sports a large marina, an airstrip and the only beach on the lake, residents said.
For most of its history, the subdivision has been a vacation spot. But recently, many former vacationers have stayed and now, residents said, around 290 people live at the place full time.
Elaine Budden, who has lived in a 1,600-square-foot home in Three Rivers for 33 years — the last 17 full-time — said her propane-powered generator hardly comes on at all in the summer and fall with the constant sunshine of inland Oregon. In the winter she estimates it runs once or twice a week for a couple of hours at a stretch.
“The only thing you do is service your generator and check your batteries for water periodically,” Budden said.
Budden, originally from Boston, has all the conveniences of home enjoyed by those on the grid, which is 3 ½ miles away.
“We’re 25 miles from the nearest town,” Budden said. “We have deer, elk, wild turkey, coyotes. Most properties are five acres. There are no streetlights, no sirens. It’s a chosen lifestyle for sure. You do the little things that go with that, like shutting the water off and on as you brush your teeth. You should do that anyway.”
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