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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc. 
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For the week of June 6 - June 12, 2001


County’s aging trend confirmed

Study suggests elderly are moving to mountains to stay

Express Staff Writer

The numbers are in. Blaine County residents, particularly in Sun Valley and Ketchum, are getting older.

The median age of Blaine County residents jumped from 33.3 in 1990 to 37.4 in 2000. The number of county residents 60 or older jumped from 9.6 percent in 1990 to 11.7 percent in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The aging trend, which holds true for seven of Idaho’s counties, is happening both because older people are moving to rural areas and people living in those areas are choosing to stay as they get older, said University of Idaho professor of family and consumer sciences Virginia Junk.

Junk recently surveyed five of Idaho’s seven aging counties in an attempt to explain why it’s happening, what the older citizens’ concerns are, and how aging is impacting affected communities.

Slower paced lifestyles and outdoor recreation topped the list of reasons more people are choosing to grow older in Blaine, Boise, Bonner, Custer and Valley counties, she said. Traffic congestion, land use changes and growth topped the list of concerns among 65 and older residents surveyed in Blaine County.

In each of the five counties, the population 65 years and older has grown between 13 and 25 percent through the past decade, Junk said.

Sun Valley and Ketchum easily topped the list of fastest-growing elderly populations.

The median age of Sun Valley residents increased from 35 in 1990 to 47.5 in 2000.

In Ketchum, the median age increased from 33.4 in 1990 to 39 in 2000.

Hailey’s median age increased from 31 in 1990 to 33.3 in 2000. Bellevue’s increased from 32.3 in 1990 to 33 in 2000. The median is one of three measure of "central tendency" in statistics. The other two are the mode (most frequent) and the mean (average).

The mode for all four cities and the county in 1990 and 2000 was the 25- to 44-year-old age group.

Of the four cities, Sun Valley is the one that has grown the oldest. In 1990, 11 percent of its population was 60 years or older. In 2000, the number jumped to 27 percent.

The percentage of those 60 or older in Ketchum jumped from 8 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2000.

In Hailey and Bellevue, the percentage declined. In Hailey, in 1990, the percentage of those 60 or older was 9. In 2000, the percentage dropped to 8.

Ketchum city administrator Jim Jaquet interpreted the impact of an aging population on the city in terms of vibrancy.

As long as the resort economy is vibrant, he said, the city also will be vibrant. He noted there has been no slowdown in construction and the level of service provided by the city has steadily improved.

Carrie Schiller-Westergard, Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber of Commerce marketing director, said the older age of the community mirrors the older age of the resort’s tourists.

While she said she sees a benefit to age diversity in a resort community, the economy probably won’t suffer because of a shift in age.

In fact, Junk said, Blaine County’s economy could see an indirect benefit from its aging population.

"People who move when they’re older tend to have higher income, more education and better health," she said.

That means they’re typically involved and are willing to spend.

Junk said there are several similarities between the five counties she began surveying over a year ago.

"When we compared them, these very beautiful areas popped out," she said. "We saw a pattern there. They’re all close to the mountains and are very beautiful places."

Over the past year, Junk mailed surveys to older residents of the five counties and asked what their primary concerns are. Junk said some of the results surprised her.

"The growth and traffic congestion were concerns, but generally (those who responded) weren’t anti-growth. We didn’t see too much evidence of that.

"Things like timing of stoplights to give older people time to cross the streets surfaced. Also moving of post offices out of the downtowns like they did in Hailey, because they like to socialize there. Also, there aren’t many assisted living facilities. Some wanted to bring their parents to these places."


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.