Friday, December 30, 2011

Say ‘hello’ to your new neighbors

Valley welcomed new residents in 2011

Express Staff Writer

The Wood River Valley has long been a place that welcomes visitors, embraces transplants and affords newcomers a place to reinvent themselves.

In 2011, people from points east, west and in between set their sights on a new life. They came, they saw, they decided to stay. Here are some of their stories.

The Newhouse family

The search for something different, and a longing to move back to the West, drew Heather and Matt Newhouse to the valley from Michigan.

Visits with friends who live here never seemed enough.

"We just kept coming back," Heather said. "We were looking for a change. It sort of hit all the right buttons."

Those buttons, she said, were a small-town feel with a cosmopolitan touch.

Restaurants, shops, cultural attractions, events, "not to mention all the outdoor recreation," were very appealing.

The couple, along with sons Levi and Sawyer, love their Elkhorn location.

"My son can get on the free bus and be on the ski slopes in six minutes," she said.

Heather is the new owner of Open Room, a Ketchum furniture store.

"We didn't move here for that," she said. "It just happened."

Matt, a high school special education teacher in Michigan, is substitute teaching while looking for a permanent position.

Tom Wirth

A job at Ketchum's Environmental Resource Center brought Tom Wirth here from Telluride, Colo.

Wirth, the ERC's new executive director, learned of the job opening from his sister and brother-in-law, who, with their daughter, have lived in the valley for more than 20 years.

"I came here for the job at the ERC," he said. "They're trying to do so many good things and so many interesting things."

Wirth's parents live here part-time, and Wirth himself spent a winter here.

"I've been coming up, [so] it was not an unknown," he said. "I moved from one pretty ski town to another pretty ski town."

The friendliness of people here quickly made an impact on him.

"What strikes me ... is how nice the people are," he said. "It's been great so far."

Kelland and Sarah Wolf

Sarah Wolf's summer job working for the Sawtooth National Forest in Fairfield in 2002 was the first step in a protracted journey that finally led her and husband Kelland to put down roots in the Wood River Valley.

The couple spent many summers in Idaho doing seasonal work—one time tending bar in Featherville—but always returned to Kansas.

"We'd never lived in the mountains before," Kelland said. "Every year during summer, we'd come up. It just started feeling more and more like home."

Permanent jobs in Kansas took them away from Idaho for four years.

"We really missed this area," he said. "We decided to throw caution to the wind."

Tapping contacts from his wildland firefighting days, Kelland soon found a paid, on-call firefighter/paramedic position with Wood River Fire & Rescue. Sarah landed a job with Idaho Fish and Game's Hayspur State Fish Hatchery, southeast of Bellevue.

The Wolfs enjoy the year-round outdoor activities possible here. They also appreciate people's respect for their surroundings.

"There's a lot more concern for a person's impact on the environment," Kelland said. "People seem to be conscious about themselves in their surroundings. That's something that's pretty important to my wife and (me)."

"I love my job," he added. "It's definitely a bonus when you love your job and the place you live. I wouldn't think of doing anything else."


Jake DeVries

Jake DeVries had never heard of Sun Valley when he was looking for a new job, but a quick Google search and a few Mountain Express newspaper articles online convinced him that his future lay in the central Idaho resort town.

"I thought, wow, that place looks amazing," he said.

DeVries had been working as recreation manager at Grand Canyon National Park, but kept thinking about the organization that launched his profession.

"My whole career started teaching swim lessons to kids at a YMCA," he said. "I wanted to be part of the Y again."

With experience as an aquatics director in Seattle, he was hired for the same position at the Wood River Community YMCA in November.

The area's dog-friendly attitude was a big plus, as was the general mountain town atmosphere.

"Every time I'm in a ski town it just feels like home," he said. "I love it. I am so happy to be here."

Casey Dove

Casey Dove and her fiancé, Sam Christian, had lived in cities for years, but it dawned on the couple one day that all their weekends were spent skiing or otherwise recreating outside their hometown, San Francisco.

With future plans for a family, they began to look for a smaller community to call home.

"It's hard to be part of a community in a big city," she said. "Some of our favorite places were a little more remote."

The couple conducted extensive research into mountain ski towns.

"This place kept eking its way up on the list," she said.

Part of the appeal was a friend who lives in Hailey, but the cohesive and "robust" community sealed the deal.

"The community was the big draw," she said.

Dove continues to work remotely for Wells Fargo Bank but said she will eventually seek employment in finance for a local nonprofit group.

The access issue, cost of living and infrastructure for newcomers are taking some getting used to, but Dove said they are happy with their new environment.

"We're ecstatic about the lifestyle and all the activities going on," she said. "The pace has been a good match for us. We feel we made a good choice."

Rebecca Meany:

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