Pn 07/26 1222 Survival Community By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS
Associated Press Writer.
GOLDENDALE, Wash. (AP) -- Amid the fir trees and hills of the
Klickitat Valley, Larry and Meg Letterman are putting in a hot
tub while waiting for disaster.
The Lettermans are creators of Ponderosa Village, a 1,000-acre
"intentional community" whose residents hope to ensure their
survival in the social upheavals they see on the horizon.
They say they are not survivalists, not a religious sect and
not a commune.
They are just people who are equipping their elaborate homes
with bomb shelters and large stocks of food. They value their
distance from large urban areas, where they sense disaster
"There is a greater chance of mishap and social disorder in
the cities," said the 67-year-old Letterman.
"Our emphasis is on being prepared for whatever might come
down the pike," said his wife, who's 68.
Something as simple as a truckers' strike could bring chaos,
"The supply of food in larger cities is down from 2 days to
1-1 1/2 days," Letterman said. "Just a ripple in the trucking
system could cause riots in large cities."
Cities also breed disease, stress, pollution and political
upheaval, and would be targets in nuclear warfare, say the
To prepare, they are developing a community where members
would have their own stored food, seeds, water source, medical
supplies, tools and "means of self-defense."
"I don't want to give the impression we're wearing robes and
waiting for doomsday to come," Letterman said. "It's not like
But part of the allure is that the southcentral Washington
development is 70 miles from Yakima, Wash., 120 miles from
Portland, Ore., and 210 miles from Seattle, according to a
In a time of upheaval, people will stream out of those cities,
heading into the country for safety, they said.
"Access to Ponderosa Village is restricted by mountains,
rivers, forest lands, number of approach roads and entrances,"
the brochure says, "making protection feasible."
Ponderosa Village, built on a heavily forested hillside, has
the aura of a summer camp, with its wood-sided homes, red-dirt
forest trails and whistling winds.
No weapons were evident when an AP reporter visited.
Letterman said residents had agreed not to discuss weapons or
food and equipment stockpiles, leaving those to the discretion of
About 50 five-acre parcels have been sold, to people from
places like Long Island, N.Y., Seattle, Texas, California and
even Switzerland, Letterman said. Undeveloped parcels cost
$9,000 to $15,000.
So far 13 families, a total of 32 people, have taken up
residence in this development about five miles from Goldendale,
population about 3,500.
The Lettermans say it is coincidence that they chose to locate
just 100 miles north of Rajneeshpuram, the now-disbanded commune
where Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh moved his sect in 1981.
Unlike Rajneesh, the Lettermans have drawn little attention.
"There are a lot of good people who live up there," said
Sheriff Jim Gleason, who declined to say whether his office had
received any complaints about the development.
Steven Anderson, former county planner, said the only
complaints came from inside the development and involved internal
"People were complaining that when they bought the lot they
didn't understand the fine print," said Anderson, now a private
One of the complainers was Tim Urchenko, a former industrial
engineer from Dallas, who was upset by rules restricting the
cutting of trees.
"I like the property and the people have been good except for
the problem with all the rules," said Urchenko, who now makes
intricate boxes and sells them at craft shows.
"When you come from the city, you are living with all kinds of
people around you and you're used to rules," Urchenko said. "But
then you move out here ... and you think, `Why do we need this?"'
The Lettermans moved to the development from Los Altos,
Calif., in 1982, five years after acquiring the land for a sum
they will not disclose.
Since that time they have marked off 200 parcels, put in roads
and a water system, bought a fire truck and built their own
The 3,000-square foot residence includes a new hot tub,
attached greenhouse, satellite dish and a root cellar where they
store everything from dried beans to champagne. The
earth-covered root cellar doubles as a bomb shelter.
The land is nearly paid off and all improvements have been
paid for in cash, so the remaining debt is small, the Lettermans
They recruit like-minded people through ads in magazines like
Mother Earth News and Mother Jones. They also advertise in New
Age religious publications. They have been New Age followers, as
are 75 percent of the development's residents, according to Meg
"People ask if this is a religious sect," she said. "No, but
preparedness is its own religion."
There is a community meditation chapel as well as a stone
gathering circle, where residents occasionally get together to
share beliefs, she said.
Prospective buyers are told they will be required to conform
to the principles of self-reliance and to contribute to building
community spirit. The Lettermans say they do not want people
dependent on "handouts."
Instead, they want people who can find work in area industries
or who can create their own jobs. Current residents work in the
nearby aluminum mill, or as nurses, printers, computer analysts
and in arts and crafts.
Meg Letterman was editor of National Reporter, a magazine
published by the Zero Population Growth organization, while Larry
was an Air Force officer working with military satellites.
They wanted to escape cities, but at the same time they were
not interested in small towns, which can be an "ingrown tribal
society" where they would not be accepted, Letterman said.
"We thought it was better to start some sort of a community
with people with similar interests," he said.
Ponderosa Village is not a back-to-the-earth commune.
While many people have their own vegetable gardens and
orchards, large-scale farming is not possible. The emphasis is
on stocking canned and dried foods.
The houses are modernistic and elaborate, some featuring
geodesic dome designs and natural heating and cooling systems.
The Lettermans provide a lending library with over 2,000
titles, many of them do-it-yourself books.
The community is not utopian or communal, but is held together
by its families, Letterman said.
"Utopian is a fantasy or a dream," he said. "You can come here
and increase your awareness of life."