Most people just want to live a happy life. They want to go to work, provide for their family, keep everyone safe and enjoy their surroundings and the company they keep. In the melting pot that is the United States, the perfect living situation is different for everyone depending on each person’s view of the world. Some see leaving their hometown for a Manhattan apartment in the city that never sleeps as making it to the top. Others prefer acreage far from anything resembling a city where quiet and personal freedoms make for their own slice of paradise. For a long time, North Idaho was about as rural as one could get. Industries like railway, timber and mining called to those wanting to leave congested big cities in hopes of finding consistent work and their own plot of land to call home. While by no means would anyone consider North Idaho a metropolis today, subdivisions, chain stores and shopping centers now sit where there was once just forest.
While the call of North Idaho is no longer that of manufacturing or digging in the ground, people continue to move here in droves. In 1970, the population of Kootenai County was around 35,000, and today the census estimates that number at nearly 155,000. When meeting new people or chit chatting at events or restaurants, it can be difficult to find someone who was born and raised in Sandpoint, Coeur d’Alene or Post Falls. Many have been here for a long time but were born out of state. Those who are purely local are often quick to point out how many generations back their family goes. So what drives people to pack up and start a new life in North Idaho? While each individual is different, there are several key factors that are big influencers when choosing to settle here.
Cost of Living
Ask any realtor in town, and they will tell you the bulk of their out-of-state business is coming in from Southern California and Western Washington with residents of the Midwest also contributing to the population growth. As home prices continue to soar across the country, things may seem steep here but are nothing compared to where a good majority of new residents are coming from. The greater Seattle area is in the midst of the hottest housing market in the country, and you would be hard pressed to find a livable home in and around San Diego and Los Angeles for less than $500,000. According to Zillow.com, the median asking price for a home in Sandpoint in 2012 was $197,000. Today that has shot up to $375,000. However, someone considering moving to North Idaho will find these homes affordable, especially if they own their home outright or have lived in them long enough to gain a large amount of equity, often enough to pay cash for a home here. Not having a mortgage allows for families to live off jobs that pay less in Idaho, and others can simply cash out their home and live well enough off a pension or company retirement plan.
Way of Life
The nation’s biggest cities often pack more people into a square mile of living space than most entire towns in North Idaho. For some it’s exciting to be in the action while others find it overwhelming. Those looking for a slower pace of life and easier drive around town find North Idaho greatly appealing. Living in affordable suburbs often means a 45 minute to 1 hour commute or more. Around here that’s like driving from Coeur d’Alene to Spokane or Sandpoint. Crime rates are low and graduation rates are steadily increasing, which is appealing to families with small children when choosing a place to raise them. Parking is almost always free, shopping is easy and people are generally polite to one another.
People find comfort in groups and areas where others think, act and have similar beliefs to one another. A major belief amongst almost all North Idaho residents is that of personal freedoms, especially when it comes to running a business, the 2nd Amendment and land rights. During the manufacturing, mining and logging days of North Idaho, union-backed Democrats held the bulk of the political power. Today, small-business owners and those with a belief in small government and low taxation have swung the area to almost entirely red. Two-thirds of Kootenai County voted Republican on the last presidential election, and just about every locally elected official across the region is Republican. Today’s urban areas are often dominated by Democratic voters, and those with more conservative viewpoints are often finding more in common with more rural areas like Sandpoint and Coeur d’Alene. This isn’t to say liberal beliefs are not present here, but those who lean right are for more likely to find like-minded individuals as their neighbors than those who they oppose politically.
The Great Outdoors
There aren’t a lot of places where you can turn off a major highway and in a few short minutes your cell phone is completely out of service. North Idaho is an outdoor recreationalist paradise. Lake Coeur d’Alene, Hayden Lake, Lake Pend Oreille and Priest Lake are all beacons for boating, fishing, wakeboarding, waterskiing and relaxing on the beach. Avid fly fisherman come from all around to try their luck in our rivers, and in the fall sportsmen stalk deer, elk, moose, bear and wolves in our woods. Come winter, there is plenty of powder to go around at the numerous ski hills within a 90-minute drive. Snowmobiling the back country is a rush, and finding snow in July while hiking into dozens of mountain lakes is an absolute treat. The annual Ironman triathlon has inspired many in the communities to get out and run, bike and swim. Paved bike trails lead you through amazing scenery, and at the end of a long week, a drink on the patio of a lakeside restaurant just can’t be beat.
Like with any beautiful mountain town, it can only be kept a secret for a short while, and the secret is out in North Idaho. Population growth brings challenges, which locals new and old are seeing daily. People come here for a variety of reasons from all over the country, a testament to how special of a place North Idaho truly is. We all came from somewhere else at one point, and it’s tough not to see the reasons so many are eager to call North Idaho home.