Meet the Man Who Built an Off-the-Grid Watertopia Along the Trinity River

There are plenty of people who have built great properties in Northern California. While some people may point to the extravagant mansions on the shores of Lake Tahoe as their dream homes, other people dream of an off-the-grid oasis on the waterways of NorCal. This story is of the latter.

We once profiled a video about a man and his wife who built a home in the NorCal redwoods in 1968, with the man still living in the home now worth $6 million. The creators of that video have returned to spotlight a beautiful “watertopia” along the Trinity River that shares a similar spirit.

Dwight Streamfellow bought his property on the South Fork of the Trinity River in 1976 for $11,000. 46 years later, the property is a completely self-sustaining community, built almost entirely by Streamfellow. Watch his story in the video below:

Here is an explanation of the video from its creator, Kirsten Dirksen:

Dwight Streamfellow was a college junior when he bought a piece of cheap river-front land to start a homestead. He was a city boy (partly in Washington DC where his father was a senator) so he planned to learn-by-doing on how raw land in the rugged mountains of Northern California’s Six Rivers National Forest.

The property cost him only $11,000 back in 1976, but soon he had built his own home (much of it with hand tools) and was growing his own food, pumping water from the river to irrigate his garden & orchard, and powering his homestead with photovoltaic and firewood (for heat and his hot tub/bathtub).

In a state that is drying up, Streamfellow considers his large chunk of riverfront his true wealth: he’s on the South Fork of the Trinity River, the longest un-dammed river left in California. Forty-five years ago he tried harvesting the water by carrying 5 gallon buckets up the 150 feet from the river to his home. He then tried a pedal-powered pump, but the calories burned weren’t replaced by the calories created in the garden. He finally perfected a system – an electric pump that is powered by a photovoltaic array – which provides all the water he, and his tenants, need for large gardens, orchards and the five homes on this property.

Starting before the Internet, Streamfellow felt he was without an instruction manual for most of his nearly 5 decades working the land, doing everything from building roads (chipping away at granite), creating garden terraces along his steep property and building up hugelkultur beds to garden on bedrock.

Now 68 years old, Streamfellow isn’t wealthy, but he has no debt (he believes in the pay-as-you-go model) and he considers himself wealthy from what his land provides; he has four tenants (who often work the property in lieu of rent), a garden that supplies sufficient annual fruit, vegetables and potatoes, and chickens, pigs and deer for meat. “It was always my goal to be as self-sufficient as possible,” explains Streamfellow. Forty-five years after settling here he says he always has a year’s worth of food and three year’s worth of firewood: “to me that’s what represents wealth– that food and the capability to heat my home”.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California

266 Comments

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