Bill Mintiens
The Redmond Spokesman

After starting as a destination resort in 1972, Crooked River Ranch has evolved into an amenity-rich residential subdivision, attracting families from Central Oregon and beyond.

But, with a risk of wildfires and other potential disasters, access in and out of the area has become a concern for its estimated 5,500 residents. A second entrance to the ranch has become a priority that could come to fruition later this year.

At 10,000 acres and 2,646 privately owned lots, Crooked River Ranch is the largest subdivision of it’s kind in Oregon. The CRR Homeowners Association employs more than 25 people and has no shortage of volunteers that ensure homeowners and seasonal guests are satisfied.

Amenity-rich might be an understatement for the ranch, where home sites range from one to five acres. For their $430 per year property owner dues, residents have access to a number of common properties the association owns. This includes a swimming pool, tennis and pickleball courts, an 18-hole golf course, recreational vehicle park, the MacPherson Park and pavilion, Panorama Park, a baseball field, basketball court and a horse arena.

Given these amenities and the reasonable dues required of homeowners, it’s no wonder that the demographics of the ranch are changing.

Judy LaPora, Crooked River Ranch Manager for the past six years, has been watching this shift.

“We’ve always had a large number of retired people moving out here, but recently, we’ve had a much larger number of families with kids moving in,” LaPora said. “And I think that’s going to continue because they’re being priced-out of some of the other areas.”

Finding affordable housing in Central Oregon, particularly with acreage, is increasingly difficult.

“My opinion is that we’re becoming somewhat of a bedroom community to Bend, Redmond and Madras,” LaPora said.

“People can live out here and commute to work because our prices are a little bit more reasonable, and obviously, it’s beautiful with a lot of nice amenities.”

But living in many parts of the High Desert also comes with an associated risk — wildfire. And Crooked River Ranch is not immune to this danger. The ranch has been identified in the Jefferson County Fire Mitigation Plan as “extreme.”

There is only one way into CRR — and the same way out — NW 43rd Street off Lower Bridge Road near Terrebonne.

“Heaven forbid, if we had something like what happened down in Southern California (massive wildfires), we wouldn’t be able to get people off this ranch, nor would be able to get mutual aid onto the ranch,” LaPora said.

Mitch Mitchener and his wife have owned property in Crooked River Ranch since 2000. They built their home and moved onto the ranch permanently in 2008. Mitch is the former board of directors president, having served the association for ten years.

“We have a responsibility to keep the ranch fire-safe,” he said. “A single road in and out, years ago, was OK when the population was much less and it was primarily a recreational spot. An alternate exit is a very important project now for both safety and convenience reasons.”

Discussions as far back as 10 years ago about an alternate exit didn’t bear any concrete plans. However, over the past four years, an Alternate Exit Committee that reports to the board has been working on a plan which appears to be coming to fruition.

The Alternate Exit Committee has extensively posted its findings on the ranch’s web site (www.crookedriverranch.com) to keep property owners apprised on its work and to note feedback from town hall meetings involving property owners.

After extensive study, discussions, and meetings, the Alternate Exit Committee decided that a new paved road should connect to Lower Bridge Road from the end of Quail Road, a short distance west of the existing entrance (43rd Street.)

“The way the committee chose to go, which is the only feasible way, is to build a road that goes out to the south, to the west of Steamboat Rock, and exits onto Lower Bridge Road less than a mile to the west of the existing entrance,” LaPora said.

Board President David Palmer is a firefighter with 16 years experience. He knows all too well the dangers of wildfire.

“The biggest thing we’re working on right now is the alternative exit,” said Palmer.

Four years may seem like a long time to research and discuss an alternative exit/entrance, but Judy LaPora is quick to point out how many organizations had to be involved.

“We’re dealing with (Bureau of Land Management), Deschutes County, Jefferson County, the ranch, and the special road district within the ranch,” she said. “We had to find a way to work cohesively and put a plan together that’s going to work for everybody. That’s why it took four years.”

The alternative exit project could be completed by the end of summer, officials said.

With a majority of the proposed paved road in Deschutes County, BLM has already issued a “right of way” to Deschutes County. (In terms of actual lots within CRR, 10-to-15 percent are located in Deschutes County, the remainder are in Jefferson County.)

Jefferson County has agreed to be the borrower/financier for the roughly $807,000 project (which contains a 20-percent contingency that brings the engineering estimate down to $650,000). The “loan” that CRR will receive from Jefferson County is more like a line of credit for construction costs.

Jefferson and Deschutes counties have committed to infusing $100,000 into the project.

“We have been working for several years to increase our Capital Reserve Fund for discretionary purposes and this year the board has decided to put the normally dedicated $200,000 toward the new road,” LaPora said. “That will reduce the cost of the road by $400,000 overall.”

Properties will see a $20 per year increase in assessments to help pay for the road starting with the fiscal year 2018-19 budget, LaPora said.

Next steps for the alternate exit include an agreement with BLM, Deschutes and Jefferson counties,the homeowners association, and the ranch’s special road district.

The expectation is that the agreement will be finalized by the respective lawyers by April 13th. On April 16th the Board of Directors will be presented with a resolution on the project. If it’s approved by the Board, on April 17th Jefferson County will release the project for bidding to contractors.

“Jefferson County will manage the entire project. The (request for proposal) lasts three weeks and is a sealed bid process,” Palmer said. “Then there’s a one-month protest period for contractors to contest the winning bid. So potentially the project ‘awarding’ could be on May 1, and the entire job could be finished by the end of this summer.”

Commenting on what she felt was the most important thing happening at Crooked River Ranch these days, LaPora said, “In my opinion, I believe this is the most important thing that has been done on this ranch. I don’t know how you could have anything more important than the public safety of the people who live on this ranch.”

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