Community November 23, 2020

How to Live Like a Local

A Primer on Local Life in the Mountains

Greg Randolph knows what it means to be a local. Having grown up in McCall and lived in the Wood River Valley for 17 years, he’s become pretty familiar with the way of life here. Whether it’s waving to people on hikes or driving slowly through neighborhoods, he has his own rulebook for living like a local in the area. “Everyone knows everyone. Both bad behavior and good behavior will be recognized and remembered,” he said, when asked about his advice for newcomers.

And in recent months, plenty of newcomers have flocked to the valley. Tourists, new residents, and remote workers have sought refuge from the difficulties of city life during a pandemic and from the wildfires raging across the West, with Ketchum serving as a popular destination. The area’s natural beauty, outdoor accessibility, and mountain town atmosphere have attracted visitors from near and far–some of whom are easier to spot than others. Maybe it’s their license plates, clothing choices, or way of speaking, but locals of the Wood River Valley can often spot newcomers from a mile away. And while generally welcoming and accepting of anybody who loves this slice of Idaho as much as they do,  some of those long-time residents are maybe just a little bit less thrilled with the influx.

Citing rude or annoying behavior, locals can tend to criticize and harp on new transplants, some of whom might not be as familiar with the subtleties of small town living. Back in late September, the words “Real locals don’t wear yoga pants and drive Sprinter vans!” appeared within the local newspaper’s “Classifieds” section. In early October, one entry proclaimed, “To all the newcomers/wanna be locals wondering what it takes to become a local. If you have to ask you’ll never know.” Other submissions are a little friendlier, some even thanking people for wearing face masks and following traffic rules, but there’s no doubt that locals have a specific way of doing things around here. Most feel strongly about this place they call home. Many are not afraid to share their ideas with the public.

But sometimes, tension can run a little higher than normal and the tension might lie in a mutual lack of compassion from both locals and non-locals. While some locals seem to take issue with minor differences between themselves and out-of-towners, differences like fancy cars or complicated coffee orders, some non-locals fail to grant appropriate respect to Ketchum’s community and resources. So, whether you’re hoping to pass as a local or have called the Wood River Valley home for decades, try showing a little more compassion towards the other side.

Many prominent community members try to encourage that compassion. Neil Bradshaw, Mayor of Ketchum, advises newcomers to slow down because “you’ve already arrived exactly where you need to be.” He wants to promote a welcoming and diverse environment, full of different types of people. Much of that goal involves granting acceptance towards other backgrounds, attitudes, and ways of life.

From an economic perspective, the rise of newcomers in the Valley has brought benefits to local business. Doug Fenn of White Otter Adventures experienced a huge year for his rafting company. Some clients said that their tour was the first time they felt normal or laughed in months. His team appreciated their roles in producing a valuable experience during this challenging time. “We just realized that what we have in this valley, the volume of public land, is unbelievable… When you talk to families who have kids in this pandemic on the 17th floor of an apartment building in L.A., it’s so different. You felt so appreciative that we live where we do.”

Naturally, Doug acknowledged some of the downsides to this tourism. “Stanley doesn’t have the resources to handle those people. Some of the sad part was seeing the negative impacts to the land, RVs parked in every little turnout…”

Likewise, Greg Randolph, VP of Marketing at Decked LLC, emphasized the importance of exploring this town and taking advantage of its outdoor wonders. Nevertheless, he acknowledged that the Wood River Valley is a special place and advised newcomers to avoid turning it into the places they left. Part of that responsibility includes respecting all community members, wearing masks in public places, and sharing our natural resources.

This community doesn’t seem to have agreed on what exactly comprises “local” status. For some, it means knowing all the best spots and hidden gems in town. For others, it means having lived here for fifty years. Yet for others, it just might involve knowing the name of the cashier at the grocery store. Localism means something different to everyone, and the definition has become even more murky in our globalized world, with frequent travel and remote work becoming the norm. It’s no longer the case that most people live in one place for the majority of their lives, so defining oneself as “local” has become much more difficult.

But if you’re still striving to fit in like a local, remember that it might just take time. Even if you do drive a Sprinter van and wear leggings, we’ll promise to respect you as long as you respect our community. Let’s not forget that everyone was a newcomer to this Valley at one point.



Advice from Long-Time Local Greg Randolph, VP of Marketing at Decked LLC

“Remember why you came here. And remember that if you can’t get out of it, get into it. In other words, you came here, and you liked the clean air and the big mountains and the green trees, but it’s also a mountain culture and that’s very different than where you came from. It’s important to understand that it’s not just a scenic backdrop for your life. It’s a way of living. You don’t want to turn this into the place you left.”

Advice from Long-Time Local Neil Bradshaw, Mayor of Ketchum

“Slow down and remember: you’ve already arrived exactly where you need to be

Advice from Long-Time Local Pat Lee, Silvercreek Outfitters Fly Fishing Guide

“Be respectful to the outdoors and clean up after yourself. I heard more horns honking this year in town than ever. Slow it down, we’re not in the city. Relax a little bit and enjoy it, rather than trying to rush through.”

This article appears in the Fall 2020 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.