Idaho is far from the place where I spent most of my life. The friends, jobs, houses and streets I walked or drove were not in Idaho. Someone once told me find a warm place to retire. I lived in a very warm place in the Southeastern United States. How did I end up retired in a cold place where it snows and the seasons change?
Recently, I read articles about the newcomers to Idaho. Some appeared in the Cd’A Press. There was a lengthy article in an online publication. These articles have mentioned people relocating to North Idaho from other areas but it seems many come from California. These stories give various reasons for relocation from traffic, crime, immigrants, greater space and I am sure there are others as the rationales as well. People claim the peaceful, easygoing lifestyle and beauty of North Idaho and Kootenai County in particular brought them here.
During my time south of the Mason-Dixon Line, my city evolved from a large one to a very large one. The growth brought traffic, crime, immigrants, high cost of housing, etc. None of these were the reasons my wife and I found our way to Coeur d’Alene.
One daughter came here to take a temporary job with full intention of returning back East. The temporary job became a permanent job, then came a boyfriend from Cd’A, then a wedding and a permanent relocation. A few years later our other daughter took a job in Seattle. The Mississippi River became our new dividing line. Flying to Cd’A meant 10- to 12-hour travel time by plane even with good connections to see our daughters and grandchildren. We decided family had to take precedence at this time in our lives. We packed up and headed west, a permanent relocation, knowing we could return occasionally. It was hard; we loved where we lived with the problems and benefits, friends and history. We were moving but we weren’t fleeing.
We had visited Cd’A several times before relocating. We weren’t coming to the totally unknown. I still love sitting on a bench at Independence Point off Sherman Avenue looking across the lake and at the mountains rising in the distance. I enjoy walking downtown, popping in and out of local stores, not national chains. We find joy on the bike trails, river walks, Tubbs Hill and boat trips on the lake. It’s nice that there is much less traffic, less noise, a little slower pace, no constantly honking horns and fewer gated communities.
One of the recent articles described who has been moving to North Idaho. It stated “white middle-class people including religious people and lots of retired police officers.” These would appear to be good people who would appreciate what Idaho has to offer. “You could live the good life on a California state pension, especially if you sold your California home, took the money and bought a much bigger house in North Idaho.” A chance to live a less-stressful life with surplus income.
The effect of this migration can be seen on U.S. Highway 95. “Constipated by endless traffic lights and big box stores, the gridlock is unending. Californians moved to North Idaho and made it over in California’s image ...”
People migrating means more traffic and congestion. If growth is anticipated and planned, people can be accommodated within reason and the natural beauty preserved. The problems are aggravated when the newcomers seek to change the area through political means rather than fitting in. We can all disagree on solutions but still work to resolve our problems and cope with change. When one group seeks to extremely limit what the public sector can bring to ensure the beauty and attraction of North Idaho, the situation becomes untenable.
One of the migrants was quoted as saying of North Idaho, “...it just felt like America in the 1950s.” Having lived through the 1950s, I’m not interested in repeating it. Idaho is still a slower pace which is good and enjoyable. Life here in North Idaho shouldn’t be an effort to live a lifestyle that only exists in our minds. Any effort to create that myth simply because some people have the time thanks to pensions and other financial means doesn’t mean it’s the best for Idahoans.
Idaho is a beautiful place. People are polite, they hold doors, say thank you and let you cross the street, generally. I’m not much of a skier, never been fly fishing but think I would enjoy these activities. When I read of people who come here to escape whatever or whoever it is they object to, that’s their choice but please don’t try to make Idaho into some mythical vision of the past.
If where you left became what you didn’t want, that’s not our problem. Government should not be your means to get back at whoever or whatever forced you to run. Attempting to make North Idaho into what you couldn’t do in your prior community is not what we need. Idaho is a place with a sense of community, family and outdoor adventure. That’s why I came and stay.
As for me, I know others will be coming for these three reasons. We need to accommodate and welcome them. If that’s not you then don’t come or go back home.
Phil Ward is a Coeur d’Alene resident.