Huge off-grid community

Ralph and Mary Johnson (pictured) live in Three Rivers Recreation Area, a 4,000-acre development near Lake Billy Chinook that relies on solar power for electricity.

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.”

31 Responses

  1. My new family and I are looking to buy or rent lease to buy land for a solar and hydroponics living garden off the grid school.

    I am retired teacher and engineer. Need to get out of California and find a place to live on my retirement and be able to build and research living off the grid and teach others.

    I have $1200 per month the rest of my life. I am looking for land in Oregon I am originally from there Portland.

  2. hello, I’m from the Philippines. I’m doing a gradual move off-grid over a period of 3 months starting next year. I am alone so I am looking for like minded people to make the move more fun. Basically I dont need help from anyone to make the move. I have enough skills to do it and a decent job to raise what little money I will need. But I do have an extended family around the mt Apo. where I am planning to move, the native tribe Bagobo/manobo . Anyone interested drop me an email geronajulian4@gmail.com

  3. @ Greg P,
    Hello where in the philipines is your off-grid place?

    @ ghia and Greg P, I have started my gradual move to off-grid place near davao city. I expect to move march next year. If you want to communicate privately I can provide contact details

  4. I’m a single female with limited funds but can afford to rent. If anyone knows of any off-grid communities that rent apartments to single people, please email me.

    Thank you,
    ~ Bernice

  5. hi my name is Mark and I’m currently living in California. I’ve been thinking a lot about buying an RV and going up to Central Oregon to get away from the fast pace life that I currently live in. I’m looking for somebody that has some property that I could pull my RV on and stay atand then I would like to find some work. also I’d be willing to work on somebody’s house for property to offset rest for my trailer myself in my dog. please contact me if this sounds like something you would be interested in

  6. Husband and I are are looking for an off-the-grid community with young families so that our daughter will have other kids to play with.

    We would also consider starting one.

    Salem, OR or surrounding areas.

    Email me: shaundiw@yahoo.com


    1. I am looking for a community like this but only problem is I am a single, unemployed mom of 3. I did have a couple acres in southern Oregon until Covid19 I lost it, my vintage trailer all the supplies I started gathering my tools and generator because I couldnt make payments after all the shut downs. The offgrid community lifestyle is one I have spent the last 6 years trying to make a reality. If you or anyone else here has any helpful resources or ideas for me that would be appreciated. My email is odaydaisy@gmail.com thanks!

  7. Please send me some information on your community too! We are thinking of moving to Oregon and we want to be self-sufficient and as off-grid as possible. Thank you.

  8. i’m interested in joining a community. this one sounds good to me. i’m not sure how to contact other users on this site so just contact me at mradams6@live.com and let me know the location and what role am i expected to take.

    sorry if i sound new at this. i kind of am new at this.

  9. Hi everyone! I am working on starting an ecovillage and/or micro society in North Carolina. My page is North Carolina Off-Grid Green Micro Society if you’re interested please like the page and lets get it started! My “plan” is in the about me section and of course open to new ideas as the interest grows!

  10. WONDERFUL !!!!!!!!!!
    If any folks are really interested in a spectacular self-sustaining business model for either full-time off-the-grid, OR 6-month “snowbird” north/south RV’ing …. (EVEN IF YOU DON’t OWN AN RV !!!!!! …. and EVEN IF YOU CAN’t DRIVE ONE !!!!!!!!!)

    …. then please e-mail me …. and let’s make this happen !!!!!!!


  11. There needs to be a better off-grid network system. Is anyone interested in realistically beginning to network and communicate ideas and foreseeable sites in a sustainable, workable location? I’m no salesman, just a single father with two young boys and a vision from my dreams.. The list goes on and on.. Anyways..
    Email: ranksoutta@gmail.com
    ‘Outta Ranks’

  12. I suffer from severe depression and anxiety that comes from working a job that I hate just to struggle to pay the rent just so I am not homeless. I have wanted to get off the grid for so many years, I want to get back to nature and find my true happiness. The only problem with this is that I have no idea where to start. I have very little money my boyfriend is a college student and I work a nearly minimum wage job. We want to be free. I want to be free to live my life the way I choose and not be a slave to people better off than I. I live in Washington State and I am looking for a community or even some ideas/pointers in the right direction. How do you get off the grid without being able to buy land? How does a person afford to pay property taxes living off the grid? I am so confused as to how to start. Please help me! E-mail me @ jstensland17@gmail.com. I am not in the best physical shape due to a work injury but I am in my twenties and my bf is as well and I am sure that I can get myself back in a physical condition that would be required for this sort of thing. I need a change, being plagued by depression and anxiety, living in fear everyday, I fear that I will lose my sanity or even my life. Please help us!

  13. My Husband and I where born and raised in southern Ca. and have been living in Washington for about 3 years now, we have learned to do some gardening and can now grow our own vegetables Organically and my husband also took an apprentice corse on building Eco-Domes, we both where able to build one ourselves and it was a great experience..we hope to find likeminded people, It is not easy to move away from everyone and everything you know!! When we shared our thoughts and believes on this subject to our friends and loved ones we where actually looked at as some crazy weirdos, We are in our late 30’s, healthy ,strong and willing to work and learn about being completely self sustainable.

  14. Nick,
    When I saw $7million, I had sticker shock. Everyday Americans and residents of other nations would be hard pressed to come up with the funds to do a project like this (but it’s good that these families could).
    We are starting our community in the Philippines, but at a fraction of the cost ( less than US$60K/ family).
    Thanks for the post on this residential community, but it might not touch the hearts and lives as easily since it is such an affluent group.

  15. How can I get more information about your community, like are the requirements to live there? We right now are living in our RV, and living on a fixed income. Any information you can provide would help us tremendously. We love Central Oregon and off the grid community living!

  16. I can’t wait till I can get out there off the grid. Me and my wife have been talking about it for years but we don’t want to burden our children. I would love to see some information on this community

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