Populated north, rural south: Blaine Countys two worlds
Blaine Countys population base and economic engine is
centered in the Wood River Valley, but theres much more to this county than the
valleys four tightly knit communities. The following article puts a finger on the
pulses of Blaine County that arent publicized in ski magazines and travel brochures.
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
The land and the peoples connection to it is a bond as prevalent
in Blaine County as anywhere in the American West.
But nowhere in the West, perhaps, is the diversity between two groups
of people living within the same bureaucratic boundaries more stark and alienating than
that between Blaines agricultural and urban factions.
Though 48 percent of Blaines population live in the Wood River
Valleys urban communities, over half of the countys people live in
undeveloped, rural areas, according to the Idaho Department of Commerce. And of the
countys population who live in undeveloped areas, over half are devoted to various
forms of agriculture, including raising and marketing livestock and farming.
According to several agriculturally-based Blaine County residents,
interviewed over the past several months, the estrangement between the Wood River Valley
and Blaines agricultural component is very real.
In the south, seas of sagebrush and arid, irrigated desert inscribe an
often forgotten story for those in the north. It is a story of a physical, lifestyle and
political separation from the countys burgeoning population to the north, farmers
and ranchers said in interviews.
"This is really our life, and you see us in the courthouse and in
meetings. It seems like people forget who we are," Picabo rancher Katie Breckenridge
said during a recent trip to her 1,800 acre B-Bar-B Ranch in Picabo. "Were
totally out of our element in those places."
Blaine Countys sheer size contributes in large part to the
separation between its agricultural and municipal groups. It covers 2,645 square miles,
more than double the size of Rhode Island and slightly larger than Delaware. Its roughly
17,000 residents have substantial elbow room.
South of Bellevue, south of the Timmerman and Picabo hills, south of
Carey, in the southernmost reaches of Blaine County, theres a finger of land, only
eight miles across at its narrowest and 15 at its widest, that reaches to the Snake River.
Its southern tip is known at the Blaine County courthouse in Hailey as a voting district
called Yale. Its inhabited by less than a dozen year-round residents.
Yales a land of rocky sagebrush plains, unrelenting lava fields
and irrigated green. Its where Split Butte, Schoodle Well and Bear Trap and Baker
caves dot maps as the only significant landmarks.
Its also a land where northern Blaine Countys politics mean
North county bonds, development agreements and zoning restrictions are
far off and unrelated to the potato, grain and sugar beet industries that drive its
economy. The arid area is roughly 100 miles from Bellevue as the crow flies.
"Were a lot like Carey," said Yale sugar beet farmer
Blaine Cook, 52, as he worked on a piece of machinery designed to help get beets into a
warehouse for the winter. Cook owns a large farm in southern Blaine County, and his big,
strong hands show hes no stranger to hard work.
"Ive been working the land since I could walk," he
said. He paused, and then went back to work. Daylight only lasts about 11 hours a day
during the beet-harvest season in mid-October, and Cook seemed determined to make good use
of it all.
Later in the autumn day, he made time to talk.
"The main difference between the Wood River Valley and here is
origin," he said. "The Wood River Valley is full of out-of-state people
whove migrated to Idaho for whatever reason. Weve raised our families on this
As the distance between life in the Wood River Valley and the rest of
Blaine County grows, Cook said, the separation between agriculturally-based people and
industrious Wood River Valley residents grows.
Discussing the Nov. 2 Blaine County Recreation District bond proposal
for Wood River Valley recreation facilities, Cook said theres nothing for him to
gain from such proposals.
"Ive never set foot on one of those bike paths up there, but
I helped pay for em," Cook said of the $1.7 million bike path bond Blaine
County voters approved in August of 1988.
Carey residents, ranchers and brothers Ron and Keith Hunt have lived in
Carey since 1937. They expressed similar feelings of separation from the Wood River
Valley. Carey has its own community, they said, far removed from Bellevue, Hailey, Ketchum
and Sun Valley.
The Hunt brothers were perched high in the stands at a Carey High
School Panthers football game under an azure-sky this fall day, clad in baseball caps with
the Panthers blue and gold colors.
"Events like this make it all worthwhile," Keith Hunt said.
"Its really a sense of community. Weve watched these kids grow up. We can
remember when these coaches were playing in high school."
The brothers agreed that Carey provides more stability to the county
than the Wood River Valley does.
"It isnt a coming and going community like the rest of the
county," Ron Hunt said. "Nearly everyone whos here has been here all their
Many others at the football game expressed similar pleasure in the
sense of community Carey fosters.
Carey deputy sheriff Kyle Green said, "Ive never wanted to
leave. Its where I was raised. Mom and dads here. Wifes mom and
dads here. Ive never even thought of leaving."
Ranching and farming are hard work which demand different personal
priorities than those valued by people outside of agriculture, Katie Breckenridge said at
her Picabo ranch. Fellow Picabo rancher Rob Struthers joined her.
"We address the concerns about the livestock before us,"
Breckenridge said. "Our business is our livestock and our land, and they are our real
assets. The animals come first."
Breckenridge and Struthers raise sheep, cattle and horses.
The two ranchers said the alienation between the Wood River Valley and
ranchers like themselves seems to be growing as more people move in to the area from out
"People stare at us when we go to town," Breckenridge said.
"Were not in a museum yet."
But they also agreed that the county benefits from the mix of people
that are attracted to it.
"The wide variety of peopletheyve enriched my
life," Breckenridge said.
"Were all here for the same purposes," Struthers
added"to socialize with the people who are here and live on the land."
Even within the states agriculture community there is a perceived
social gap between Blaine County farmers and ranchers and their counterparts who reside in
other counties, Breckenridge suggested.
She called it the "5B animosity," a play on the countys
license plates which designate Blaine County residents.
"We hear it all the time," she said. "People want to
know how we put up with the people here.
"But we are all common people. Theres a common thread
between us all. Why do we dwell on our differences? Why cant we dwell on our