Friday, July 6, 2007

Days of the Old West brings out modern pioneers

Hailey parade exemplifies draw of valley

Express Staff Writer

East meets West: Hailey?s Day?s of the Old West Independence Parade gets a taste of the Orient as Mountain School students hide within a Chinese dragon. Thousands of spectators lined Main Street to witness one of the most popular annual events in the valley. Photo by David N. Seelig

As a bright green John Deere from the 1950s approaches, Tyler Salvoni gets wildly excited in a way only a 2-year-old can. Along with live music, lavishly decorated floats and fire trucks, Tyler is joyfully on the verge of sensory overload.

Tyler's father, Frank Salvoni, stands a few feet behind him, anticipating the appearance of Elmo as eagerly as his son and greatly appreciating his son's reactions as Hailey's Days of the Old West Independence Day Parade proceeds before them down Main Street.

The enjoyment shared by Frank, his wife, Janet, and Tyler is by no means an anomaly at this Fourth of July celebration. Thousands of spectators line this 10-block stretch of the Wood River Valley's major thoroughfare, coming from neighboring cities and even farther afield to witness the annual spectacle.

Led by Hailey's yellow fire trucks, parade entrants range from children waving from the back of a pickup truck to a float elaborately decorated to resemble a plane and a car of the Union Pacific Railroad, fitting in nicely with this year's theme of "Planes, Trains & Automobiles." In a slightly different way, so does the fan-favorite bouncing car of Hailey mechanic Elbie Bellon.

This tribute to the modes of transportation that have opened up the valley resonates with the modern type of pioneer that now inhabits the area: those searching for the precious bounty that's found above ground rather than below.

"I would guess it would be hard to find a similar event anywhere else," Frank Salvoni says as a musician strolls past, offering his rendition of Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue," which issues forth from amplifiers mounted on the back of a trailer.

The parade, which has a distinctly Western feel, a result of horses unwittingly participating in Road Apple Roulette and the free-form style of the participants, serves a reminder of why Frank, like so many others, moved to the valley.

"This is moving faster than traffic in Boston," Salvoni says, pointing at a classic car rolling by at walking pace.

Originally from the Massachusetts suburb of Natick, Salvoni came out to visit friends living in Sun Valley five years ago and ended up moving to Ketchum after returning to the East Coast for three weeks.

"I needed a change in lifestyle," says Salvoni, acknowledging that this isn't a novel concept for the numerous transplants that now call the valley home. "It's not all about work, as it was where I grew up. Here, I have plenty of time after to golf, play hockey or just take advantage of the abundant outdoor opportunities."

But despite the recreational opportunities offered by the Wood River Valley, the greatest benefit for Salvoni is exemplified by his ability to drop his son off at school, a task that would have been impossible in Boston, where he had to battle an hour commute every day.

"This is the best place I've ever seen to raise a family," says Salvoni, who works in construction management for the Ketchum-based Hennessy Co. "You look around here, with all the kids running around and you truly appreciate the safe environment. There's so much negative crap that takes place in the city. I know a lot of people complain about the changes taking place in the valley, but you just need to take a step back and realize that this is heaven."

Salvoni's good friend, Tony Benson, couldn't agree more.

A Minnesota native, Benson came here with his brother, Chris, to spend a winter more than 15 years ago and decided that six months just wasn't long enough.

Benson moved back to St. Paul for five years so that his children, Cameron, Brandon and Abigail, could get to know their grandparents. It only took two years, however, for Benson and his wife, Laurie, to feel the tug of the West, and the valley in particular.

"To be honest, Laurie couldn't stand the unpredictable Minnesota weather," says Benson, sitting in his brother's back yard in Hailey, close enough to the city's expansive firework display to smell the sulfur and feel the vibrations from each explosion. "And I couldn't readjust to the city after having been in the valley for 10 years."

After the excitement from the parade and fireworks, it's difficult to tell who's more tired, the children or their parents, but one thing is certain¾there's nowhere else they would rather be.

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