Herds of elk. Window shopping down Sherman Avenue. Biking the Centennial Trail. Car d’Alene. The falls at Post Falls. The Ironman. Bald eagles in the winter. The Christmas Lighting Ceremony. Hiking Tubbs Hill. The Hayden Farmer’s Market. The Fourth of July parade. Paddle-boarding the Spokane River.
If you live even a short while in the Coeur d’Alene region, it doesn’t take long for you to appreciate the special opportunities that it offers. The list above is just a small sampling of the many things that can make living here a daily adventure, providing a virtually endless repertoire of activities to engage in year-round. We have everything from the most outdoorsy pursuits, like fly-fishing on the St. Joe, to more cosmopolitan pursuits, like fine-dining at Beverly’s overlooking the lake. You can always find something that suits your personal style and, perhaps more importantly, suits the style of everyone in your household, no matter how diverse their interests may be.
But this collection of places and events is only part of the picture. Northern Idaho is also an attitude. It is one of independence and individuality, where people are expected to take care of themselves, but also to lend a helping hand whenever it’s needed.
When people come to northern Idaho, one of the things they first notice is that people are nicer to one another, even to strangers. For example, not only do drivers in northern Idaho not cut one another out of a choice parking spot, but they don’t look too kindly on the sort of people that do. Because up here, strangers are not people to be suspicious of, but potential friends we just haven’t yet met. So when you don’t treat others that way, maybe you don’t belong here.
Idaho’s most precious commodity is that intangible spirit of respectfully leaving each other alone, but hanging together when times demand it that makes Idaho Idaho. It’s what people who visit here often appreciate, even when they find our local habits, like having shops bigger than our houses, a bit foreign. And this spirit is what makes living here a joy, because that spirit pervades our culture. It is why crime is relatively low, and social problems do not become intractable: because we all own it, and know that it is our job to fix it.
So how do we preserve this spirit, even as our communities rapidly populate with people from outside the area? And how do we prevent the alienation that tends to increase, ironically, as communities become denser, because even as we run into more and more people, we run into fewer people that we know or with whom we share common interests? How do we get newcomers to personally become invested in our community as deeply as the long-time residents?
There is probably no easy answer. As our population grows and city boundaries expand, it will be hard to preserve some of things that we once took for granted, like no traffic snarls and acres of alfalfa and winter wheat. But the last thing we should do is discard any of the things that have kept our community together and made it a great place to live and raise a family. We need to celebrate and promote our community’s best virtues, including welcoming strangers. We need to address our new circumstances with the perseverance and the optimism that is part and parcel of Idaho’s can-do attitude. Some change is inevitable, but change for the worse is not.
Coeur d’Alene is not a secret gem anymore, but that’s no reason to let it be tarnished. We can continue to work together to meet the new challenges that the growth of our region presents, and ultimately make it a stronger community. Let’s not forget that the population of Kootenai County doubled in size from 1970 to 1990, and doubled again from 1990 to 2010. We’ve come through this before and come out on top, and we can keep doing it.
The residents of north Idaho should be proud that so many people see living in northern Idaho as their goal and their dream, as it was for so many in the last few decades who have come to call this region home. The challenge is not how to prevent northern Idaho from becoming something else, the challenge is how to encourage newcomers to become an integral part of the Idaho that they love. That’s how we’ll keep Idaho, Idaho.