Blaine County is a vast place, where seas of sagebrush-covered plain give way to a mosaic of forested mountains, alpine lakes and rugged peaks.
It covers 2,650 square miles, an area more than twice the size of the Rhode Island and slightly larger than Delaware. About 78 percent of the county is public property, land that offers world-class recreational opportunities but few windows for economic development.
That, and the lay of the land, has pushed most of the development into the Wood River Valley corridor, but there is still plenty of breathing room for the county’s estimated 21,323 residents.
So, who are we, this small population of people who live in the shadow of the Smoky, Pioneer and Boulder mountains? While every resident of the county has his or her own set of stories, data compiled by the nonprofit group Sun Valley Economic Development provides some quick answers. Since settlers first came to the valley in the 1800s, the land has essentially stayed the same, but as the decades have passed, the community has become decidedly more diverse—and more privileged—than the first families of the frontier would ever have imagined.
Blaine County’s population is not growing like it once did, data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates. In fact, the county’s 2012 population showed a decrease of about 50 residents since 2010, when it was estimated at 21,376. That’s a major shift from the population trends prior to the Great Recession. The county’s population nearly doubled from 1980 to 2000, and then continued to climb steadily until the economic downturn in 2008.
In 2013, Hailey had the highest population, with 8,014 residents (up slightly from 7,920 in 2012). Ketchum had the second highest population, with 2,728 residents, followed by Bellevue (2,010 residents in 2013, down from 2,281 in 2012), Sun Valley (1,394 residents), and Carey (594 residents).
According to the Census Bureau, about 91 percent of county residents in 2012 had a high school diploma, while 43 percent had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, about 15 percent above the national average. A little more than 15 percent of the population was born in a foreign country.
In 2012, the average household size in Blaine County was 2.32 people, down slightly from 2010 (2.42) and down a little more from 2000 (2.56). Sun Valley had the lowest household size in 2012 (1.51 people), while Hailey had the biggest average household (2.4 people).
The Sun Valley region has sometimes been criticized for being “too old,” and Census Bureau data indicates that Blaine County’s population has indeed gotten older since 2000. In 2000, people ages 65 and older made up 7.8 percent of the county’s population. That figure rose to about 11.6 percent in 2010 and then to 14 percent in 2012. However, the percentage of residents ages 5 to 17 also went up, from 18 percent in 2000 to 23.3 percent in 2012. The median age in the county is 40.6 years old.
But, not all the trends are indicating that the county is getting older. From 2010 to 2012, the 35-49 years old age group expanded, while the 50-64 age group contracted.
The data indicates that Ketchum has the most residents ages 64 and older (592) and Sun Valley has the fewest ages 20 and under (192). Carey and Bellevue have the largest percentages of young people, with Hailey a few percentage points behind. In all three of those cities, people ages 34 and younger make up about half of the population. Twenty-somethings are fairly evenly dispersed throughout the valley, with the fewest in Carey (81) and the most in Hailey (1,531). The highest percentage of the 50-64 age group lives in Hailey. Ketchum, the data shows, is fairly evenly divided by age.
Race & Ethnicity
Blaine County is still predominantly white, but has become populated increasingly by Latinos, Census Bureau data indicates. In 2000, when the total population of the county was 18,991, the percentage of Latinos was 10.7 percent. In 2010, when the population was 21,378, the percentage had risen to 20 percent. In the 2012 census, the Latino population had risen to 20.3 percent. Meanwhile, whites made up 77.6 percent of the population in 2012, Native Americans made up 1.5 percent and blacks .03 percent.
The highest percentage of Latino residents is in Bellevue, followed closely by Hailey. Latinos make up about 30 percent of the population in those cities. By correspondence, Hailey and Bellevue have the lowest percentages of whites, about 60 percent in Bellevue and slightly higher in Hailey. The fewest Latinos live in Sun Valley, which is predominantly white. More than 85 percent of Sun Valley residents are white, while Ketchum’s population is just over 80 percent white.
From 2007 to 2011, the Census Bureau estimated that an average of 18.7 percent of the households in Blaine County spoke a first language other than English.
Blaine County does have considerable wealth, but perhaps not as much as some people think. The median income in the county in 2011 was $62,906, compared to about $47,000 for the state of Idaho. That was up from a median income of $51,729 in 2011. However, the Census Bureau estimates that 7.8 percent of the county’s residents live below the poverty level.
Sun Valley had the highest median household income in 2011, estimated at $59,375. In 2011, the median household income in Hailey was higher than in Ketchum, $57,634 compared to $52,464. The figure in Ketchum dropped from $58,269 in 2009, while Hailey, Sun Valley and the county as a whole experienced increases from 2009 to 2011.
Bellevue has the highest percentage of households that make less than $25,000, at just over 20 percent. Sun Valley has the highest percentage of households that earn more than $75,000, just over 40 percent.