No one has ever seen a bear in Bear Creek; the creek itself is more of a wet-weather stream.

Rather, residents say, the 321-acre Prince William County community is for those who are seeking privacy or shying away from homeowners associations.

Bear Creek, where street names include Grizzly, Panda, Kodiak and Bruin, demonstrates how nice a community can look without architectural or landscaping committees to dictate mailbox colors or lawn ornament rules. There's nary a blade of grass out of place anywhere in the neighborhood.

When Barbara Guinn's family moved from Reston to Bear Creek 12 years ago, the neighborhood, halfway between Manassas and Clifton, was still quite rural. Guinn's daughter, then in high school, complained: "Mom, you're moving me to where there are cows!"

There are still wells and septic systems in Bear Creek, and there still are no sidewalks, no playgrounds and no community center. However, instead of being surrounded by farms, residents now are 10 minutes from Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

Elisa Jannes said her family moved to Bear Creek two years ago because they wanted to be within commuting distance of the District and also wanted land in an established community. "We weren't interested in new construction," said Jannes, a mother of two young children and a Fairfax County teacher. "We didn't want to watch bulldozers going up and down the street."

Bear Creek fit the bill. Its 181 custom-built homes, dating from 1988, each have sprawling one- to five-acre lots on rolling, wooded terrain.

"These are not production homes," said Mike Garcia, who built about three dozen of them.

Roy Beckner, past president of the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association and a partner in the firm that developed Bear Creek, said, "The topography gives you an opportunity to have some really good lots."

Deborah Walker's family moved from Loudoun County to Bear Creek 12 years ago because they wanted to be closer to relatives who live in Clifton.

"We used to walk through the woods to the Occoquan River," she said. "Some lots were considered unbuildable, but the push for land has made them more buildable now."

John Maruca, one of the neighborhood's original residents, recalls watching years ago as trucks repeatedly brought in loads of dirt in a failed attempt to fill in a gully adjacent to his one-acre lot. He credits new technologies with helping to make once-challenging lot configurations more conducive to new houses.

Although Bear Creek has no official social committees, there are still social activities. "We have to create our own associations," Jannes said.

Individuals arrange game nights, progressive dinner parties and holiday get-togethers as they see fit. Several families have laid claim to their own individual niches. One family is known for its annual pig roasts, another for Fourth of July celebrations.

There are other traditions, too. Because many of the driveways in Bear Creek are quite long, leading to hidden houses behind clusters of mature trees, on Halloween one family loads up a trailer with hay and carts kids around for trick-or-treating, said Jannes. "You might have 30 kids popping up at your door at once," she said.

Ninth-grader Russell Walker and his sister Allison, a seventh-grader, say they enjoy their family's four-acre property, which has room to run and woods to explore. "It's really easy to get some exercise here," Russell said. "It's a very friendly neighborhood with lots of kids our age."

Bear Creek's winding streets come alive on summer evenings as dog walkers, joggers and hand-holding couples take part in a casual wave-and-nod dance as they make their way around the neighborhood.

"We know people by their dogs and cars, not necessarily their names," Maruca said.

Roxane Usmani, however, is ready to jump into community social life. After a busy year with one son getting married and two children graduating from George Mason University, Usmani realized she really didn't really know her neighbors even though she and her husband have lived in Bear Creek for more than two years.

So, she said, she is about to begin a new neighborhood tradition: She is going to plan a barbecue for the folks on her street so they can become better acquainted.

One of the draws of Prince William County's Bear Creek neighborhood is space. Custom-built homes, 181 in all, sit on lots ranging from one to five acres. Privacy isn't a problem.The name "Bear Creek" is a little deceptive. There don't seem to be any bears, and the creek is really a small stream that flows when it rains.In Bear Creek, street names include Grizzly, Panda, Kodiak and Bruin. The neighborhood's 181 custom-built homes date from 1988.Russell and Allison Walker have plenty of room to run with their dog, Jasmine, on their family's four acres in Bear Creek. "It's really easy to get some exercise here," Russell said. Residents of the Bear Creek neighborhood seem to take pride in their lawns. No homeowners association is needed to dictate well-manicured properties.