By Tim Hunt
Central Oregon population is soaring with former CaliforniansUploaded: Sep 19, 2017
Many years ago, while traveling, we identified two places that we might consider moving to: Healdsburg in the Sonoma County wine country and Central Oregon—Bend, Sunriver or Redmond.
In the last couple of years, we have enjoyed some wonderful weekends in Healdsburg, enjoying the fine wines, great restaurants and the small-town ambiance around the town square. In the last 30 years, Healdsburg has grown increasingly upscale, although the population has not grown much because of the value of the vineyard land—that’s also why there are very few golf courses in either Napa or Sonoma counties.
Last week, we ventured north to Central Oregon for the first time since 2004. We first came here to ski Mt. Bachelor in 1982. That week, we caught a Pineapple Express that had the snow/rain level mid-mountain. We did little skiing that week because that just about the time Gore-Tex was invented in the Pacific Northwest and we did not own any. We had a Swiss exchange student living with us who was an avid skier—he just put on a big garbage bag over his sweater and off he went.
Since that time, we have returned several times—winter and summer—to ski, golf and enjoy the outdoor activities that the Bend area is famous for.
What we were not prepared for this time is just how much the population has exploded. I remember, sometime in the mid-1990s, being impressed with the amount of retail square footage was in Bend, a community of about 27,000 in a county of about 100,000 residents. Bend’s population doubled in the 1990s before the housing bubble popped in the mid-2000s, causing property value to fall by about half.
When we drove in last week and then drove around, we were amazed as the explosion in population and the burgeoning economy. Yes, the tourism business is still strong, but Bend and Redmond have vibrant manufacturing businesses that are diversifying the economy.
Bend now has more than 91,000 residents—we drove by several new housing developments—and Redmond is more than 29,000. There have been major road improvements so the main road, Highway 97, now bypasses downtown Bend as does the road going to the Mt. Bachelor ski resort.
Bend city planners estimate that 12 people, on average, are moving to Bend each day. The city grew 4.9 percent last year and is expected to continue to grow.
Locals bemoan the sharp increase in housing prices--$378,000 is the median price—numbers that coastal Californians can embrace with a great quality of life.
Clearly, Central Oregon has become a great destination for young people starting out, older folks seeking a second home that can be a retirement home, or simply a place to retire. In a normal year, Redmond gets only nine inches of rain given its relatively low elevation (3,500 feet) and high-desert climate.
One of the sectors that has exploded is national-class golf course communities with courses designed by legends such as Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio and David McClay Kidd. These have evolved as private clubs that also have onsite lodging that grants access to the private courses.
The only downside for us—as well as the locals—is there were no typical stunning views of the Cascades—Mt. Bachelor, the Three Sisters, Broken Top and Mt. Hood in the distance to the northwest. Smoke from the many wildfires has turned the sky gray and eliminate those wonderful views since June. Rain is predicted this week and it will be a welcome change for all.