(Photo | Courtesy of Sunriver Resort)
It is the best of times in the tale of two communities in South Deschutes County.
The City of La Pine and the Sunriver community — about 18 miles from each other — are very different in some ways, similar in others.
One is a flourishing, rural town located along Highway 97, with both a north and south section about two miles apart. The other is a popular vacation resort ideally positioned along the Deschutes River, with a small population of close-knit permanent residents, supported by three close-in business zones.
Both La Pine and Sunriver are thriving in today’s hot economy. New businesses are locating in their communities, the real estate market is healthy and there is general enthusiasm for the future.
Certainly both communities went through some of the worst of times during the Great Recession of 2007-09 with investment stalling in places like the La Pine Industrial Park and home values plummeting in Sunriver. But the long recovery since those years has created a much brighter outlook as private investment, civic improvements and growth have come back to La Pine and Sunriver.
Tourism is a key economic driver for both communities. At the epicenter for the Newberry Country Trail — a route that takes vacationers from the Newberry National Volcanic Monument to Crater Lake — La Pine is ideally situated to support visitors to the region. Sunriver has been attracting families and adventure sports enthusiasts to Central Oregon for 50 years now, with its 34 miles of paved bike pathways, SHARC aquatic center, The Village, Sunriver Resort and proximity to Mt. Bachelor.
La Pine and Sunriver Connecting
And these communities are becoming increasingly connected. That’s not unexpected, since both La Pine and Sunriver share many of the same values — pride in their community, and a love for the natural beauty that surrounds them with an abundance of recreational opportunities.
“The two communities are finding that there’s a growing symbiotic relationship,” said Melissa Bethel, La Pine’s City manager.
Bethel noted the large number La Pine residents who commute to jobs in Sunriver, and the growing number of Sunriver residents who shop, dine and utilize a variety of services in La Pine.
The flow of residents between the two areas has now created enough demand for bus service that Cascade East Transit will launch a run between La Pine and Sunriver starting as early as next summer. The service will be supported by the State Transportation Improvement Fund, which uses a new state payroll tax to provide public transit for access to jobs and community services.
La Pine and Sunriver also work together on economic development initiatives through the joint Sunriver/La Pine Economic Development (SLED) Board, consisting of business leaders and government officials from both areas, and serving as an important adjunct to EDCO (Economic Development for Central Oregon). SLED’s top priority right now is to bring onboard a new executive director who will lead the effort in South Deschutes County to recruit new businesses and promote investment.
In addition, the chambers of commerce in La Pine and Sunriver work together to improve the business environment throughout the area. Symbolic of their cooperation is the joint breakfast the two chambers hold at the beginning of each year with attendance exceeding 100.
“We both share this beautiful part of the world, so it only makes sense for us to work closely with each other,” said John Holland, president of the Board of Directors for the Sunriver Area Chamber of Commerce.
Marketing materials, like the Sunriver magazine and the La Pine Newberry Country Trail magazine, both promote the many recreational and entertainment opportunities in the area, including biking, hiking, skiing, fishing, kayaking, dining and site seeing.
While these connections between La Pine and Sunriver continue to develop, each community is experiencing its own unique growth and development.
La Pine Booming
On a recent bright Saturday morning, the parking lot of the La Pine Senior Activity Center is packed with vendors and shoppers, while inside the rhubarb pies are flying off the red checkered tablecloths and are soon sold out. It’s the Tenth Annual Rhubarb Festival, which has grown every year of late, just like La Pine.
“The local economy is good — booming,” said City Manager Bethel, who notes that’s housing values are a big reason, along with a reasonable commute to places like Bend. “We’re still the best deal in town.”
Bethel points to the new housing developments planned for both north and south of town, and affordable housing constructed by Habitat for Humanity and Housing Works. New or soon to open La Pine businesses include a Sleep Inn hotel, new and planned eateries at Huntington Headquarters, Coaches and Just Chillin Frozen Yogurt, and a tasting room for Legend Cider.
Three public works projects are just around the corner. The new La Pine Station will provide not only the primary transit stop for the city, but also a park-like setting with a food court, picnic shelter and art wall. Connecting the northern and southern sections of La Pine will be a new multi-use trail, and city water and sewer services are on their way to the northern section of town, which currently relies on wells and septic systems.
One of the top priorities for La Pine, and one that provides the greatest opportunity for investment, remains the Industrial Park located just east of Highway 97. The park boasts 150 acres of land available for development — shovel ready — with water, sewer, power and fiber optic internet services. Parcel sizes range from one-half acre to 40 acres.
On a recent tour of the Park, Rex Lesueur, president of the La Pine Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, pointed out the wide variety of businesses that have already located there, including anchor tenant Midstate Electric Cooperative, and the large expanse of land still available for development.
“We’re inviting growth here,” Lesueur said, not only for the Industrial Park but all of La Pine. “We’d love for people to take a look at us.”
Sunriver’s reputation lives on as one of the top places in the country to build family vacation memories, but that doesn’t mean the Sunriver Owners Association (SROA) is resting on its laurels. Both vacation home owners and full-time residents recognize the need for constant improvements to maintain that special Sunriver experience which, from its inception, has blended nature with neighborhood.
For example, the proposed upgrades to the North Pool complex — now in the final stages of approval by Sunriver home owners — will mix the construction of two new pools with native vegetation, lawn areas and multiple opportunities for shade. The work on the $5.8 million project will begin this fall with scheduled completion early next summer.
Another major improvement project, which just wrapped up, was the creation of two new traffic circles at the Abbot-Beaver intersection — a busy location near the main entrance that provides access to The Village at Sunriver. SROA budgeted up to $1.8 million for the project.
Also included was the construction of a new paved-pathway tunnel to the The Village, utilizing an attractive stone façade and wider path that allows bikers to ride through the tunnel instead of walk. The existing pathway tunnels serving Sunriver, with one exception, are narrow and consist of corrugated metal walls. All of these old tunnels will eventually be replaced.
Sunriver owners are also looking forward to the construction of a new recycling center, funded through a lease agreement with Cascade Disposal. The new facility will replace the existing inefficient system of large collection bins, and will finally provide a more effective recycling process, which for Sunriver is only natural.