Relative to the changing world around us, we are still a haven from whatever the world looks like in 75 years. I say relatively because we're going to grow. All you have to do is look at the master plan and you'll see it. Most of the city of Sun Valley's undeveloped property is the resort's. So goes the resort, so goes the city of Sun Valley.
Mr. Holding's vision is for less density, and I think the city's wish is for less density. But in the end the land will dictate what its capacity is. This is quite Shakespearean. We argue about it like mad, and in the end we're not going to change it very much.
There's limited room for expansion, both residential and recreationally. We're a very small place, and we're surrounded by public land. That's a very good thing. Even if we remain economically viable and successful, there's a limit to our growth potential because there's limit to the private land. That may save us from the fate of most other destination resort areas.
Still, the resort has the capacity to grow by about double. On Bald Mountain, if we expand beyond the existing use permit line, the capacity is maybe 800,000. What does that mean? If skiing is still the same sport in 75 years that it is now, it won't be fun anymore. It would be too crowded. So, there's limited growth capacity here.
We've got to be able to find out how we can survive when we reach our limit on growth. We're going to fill those things up pretty quickly, so the only thing left is the wilderness area. What's really interesting, and hard to predict, is the capacity of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and White Clouds for recreational use. We may become the gateway for the White Clouds like Jackson is for the Tetons and Yellowstone.
For people who hike, bike, fish or camp, we haven't even touched the potential of the wilderness area north of here. The largest wilderness area in the continental United States, maybe the most beautiful wilderness area in the United States, and nobody even knows it's there. That may be the untapped recreational asset that keeps the growth of the community moving down the road. It's heaven up there, and there isn't anybody using it. I wouldn't even suggest that we actively promote it. What I'm suggesting is that it's such a great treasure, it'll happen.
My faith is that this is and will be a special haven from the rest of the world. The choir sings out of tune every now and then, but this is about as close to a perfect place as you can get.
When I put on my rose-colored goggles, I see a grand ski-in, ski-out hotel at River Run. It's part of a lively mix of lodges, restaurants and stores that dot popular Ketchum and Sun Valley.
The gondola and ski lifts have been replaced by wirelessly operated drone pods that flit people to the top of any run they choose simply by speaking its name.
Climate change is no longer a worry and conditions on Bald Mountain are always superb. The venerable mountain retains its reputation as one of the best ski/board mountains in the world, but has expanded to so much adjacent terrain that no one can ski it all in a single vacation.
Arts, education and innovative companies flourish in "green" buildings.
Oh, and locals are headed to a public hearing to protest greenhouses that could block their views. Organic vitamin-packed juices will be served.
The best news about the Wood River Valley 75 years from now is that most of us will not be around to be disheartened by it.
Given adequate water, municipal growth advocacy and accommodating courts, the valley population could easily reach 50,000. The "no hillside" housing prohibitions will be diluted or under intense pressure. The valley itself will be devoid of a Western, mountain-town atmosphere. Few will recall what that was.
Ketchum will be highly commercial with extensive stands of low-income housing. Another ski mountain (déclassé, low-cost, minimal facilities) will be in operation and Sun Valley Resort itself will have been sold by the second or third generation of the Holdings. Gondolas will move people over Ketchum to large parking centers and the recreational zones.
Fishing access to Silver Creek and large sections of the Big Wood River will be, at least partially, on a reservation and fee basis. Both will suffer under the heavy pressure, and the Big Wood will require extensive restocking.
The second-home community will decline in numbers and net worth. Celebrities and second-home owners with access to private aviation will relocate, mainly to Canada. The valley will become a popular eight- or nine-month retirement community.
Hailey will enjoy near parity with Ketchum as a cultural, social and medical center. A regional government will manage the valley.
It generally will be divisive and ineffectual. The expanded airport and industrial/retail area (with large-box stores) will dominate south Hailey. Sun Valley Resort will continue to be up-market, but guests will spend more time, and money, on the company properties for recreation, shopping and entertainment. Sections of Adams Gulch, Gimlet, Greenhorn Gulch, etc. will become gated communities.
A vulgar, unrealistic reality television show, Glittering Housewives of Sun Valley, will feature morbidly thin women, attired in garish, faux Western wear and preoccupied with odious marriages and cheesy bling. It will attract a thankfully brief but scandalous popularity.
A large percentage of the population will never have seen a free-roaming moose, elk, coyote, fox or bear. The signature valley dog will be the Chihuahua.
Sun Valley has felt the boom and bust cycle of tourism and the economy yet again after a strong recovery post-2011. It has continued to grow but sustainability has become the drumbeat of a town that decided it needed a plan to insure it stays in business forever.
Geothermal and solar energy heat and power the valley. Traffic has been reduced to bicycles, pedestrians and train passengers. Anti-gravity technology has led to a levitating highway floating above the valley floor and allowed for ski lift pods to be located throughout the Pioneer and Boulder ranges. Climate change has turned Sun Valley into one of the snowiest climates on earth as La Niña has become an annual event.
The advent of vertical take-off and landing of large passenger aircraft have made the airport debacle of the early part of the century irrelevant, and a landing pad has been constructed adjacent to town. A small state college has been built between Sun Valley and Ketchum, and its first class of graduates has managed to peacefully merge the government and services of the two cities, being awarded a Nobel Peace Prize as a result.
I'm standing on top of Dollar 75 years from now, and I see a larger community, but still attractive because of city and county zoning that has maintained the setbacks by the river, maintained the Highway 75 scenic corridor, kept development off the hillsides. And, looking south, the agriculture lands are still there and productive.
Because of technology, we have more businesses that are non-tourism related. More and more people can work anywhere, so they've come to the Wood River Valley because of the outstanding quality of life, the educated workforce, air and ground links to the rest of the world and the quality schools. The businesses that have located here are of the grown children of families who came here as tourists and recognized the area's potential.
Families have downsized their dreams about the kind of house they want to purchase due to resource values that they have embraced. As a result, larger homes have been remodeled as duplexes or replaced by multi-housing-unit projects with community amenities. An increased supply, higher densities and higher-income jobs have made homes and rents more affordable.
Mountain Rides has grown to the point that it is cool to commute by bus and van from Warm Springs, Hailey/Bellevue and Elkhorn. The valley's children have developed a freedom to ride just like their counterparts in big cities.
It's still the best place!
Looking down from Dollar in the year 2086, I see a Ketchum that has distinguished itself as the premier year-round resort in the country. It has accomplished this by honoring its core values: not building on its hillsides, keeping its rivers pristine and sticking like glue to the guiding principles of the Downtown Master Plan established in 2006.
With the understanding that people are the basis for what we are and will become, Ketchum is a town with a unique recreation and outdoor lifestyle that attracts people from all over the world to live and play, enjoying a creative life on the edge of the great outdoors.
Ketchum enjoys a vital diversified economy because it has accepted three basic tenets. First, its tourist-driven economy. Second, the community and economic benefits attained from having the work force live and work within the Ketchum community. Third, that the value created when the community, government and private sector work together for the good of the community is far greater than each entity on its own.
Wow, that really hurt. Guess I should have been wearing a helmet when I skied into the trees off Limelight. Wait, what? I've been in a coma for 75 years?! No wonder I'm starving—is Despo's open?
That hit the spot. Now, where the hell are all the zombies, post-apocalyptic cannibals and sparkly vampires I was promised by Hollywood? Instead I'm looking at a large greenhouse and organic farm covering the Reinheimer Ranch, the glint of solar panels across the rooftops in downtown Ketchum and wind turbines rotating atop Bald Mountain. It's the ongoing efforts of the Sun Valley Health and Wellness Institute, you say?
So, in addition to becoming the best-known mountain bike mecca in the U.S., hosting the annual Bocci World Championships and maintaining a world-class ski resort, the valley sees people flock from every corner of the world, including the new continent of California, to see the archetype of a sustainable community—off the grid, in the mountains and still living the dream.