The federal government has confirmed what Inland Northwest campers, developers and students already know:
Paradise is a lot more crowded than it used to be. The population in the five northernmost counties of Idaho increased by 17 percent from 1990 to 1995, according to figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau.
In Kootenai County, the growth was a whopping 31.4 percent, or nearly 22,000 residents. Neighboring Shoshone County, home of the economically depressed Silver Valley, grew at just 0.8 percent.
Growth was not as dramatic in Eastern Washington, where the rate was 10 percent. But Stevens and Pend Oreille counties both increased by more than 20 percent.
Spokane County grew at 11 percent, a hair slower than the state as a whole, and topped 400,000 people for the first time.
Whitman County, which typically boasts the state’s lowest unemployment rate, is Washington’s slowest-growing county, at 1.6 percent.
By comparison, the United States population grew by 5.6 percent since 1990.
Previously released census data showed the Rocky Mountain states grew faster than any other region, at 8.3 percent. Idaho placed second among all states, behind Nevada and slightly ahead of Arizona. But its rank is slipping: The order is Nevada, Arizona, Idaho, when the growth rate is computed for 1995 alone.
Only Connecticut and the District of Columbia lost population.
Whether rapid growth is good or bad depends on how one earns a living and spends free time.
“Working in the shop, it’s great because it’s bringing in more business,” said a clerk at a Coeur d’Alene sports shop, who wouldn’t identify himself.
“When I go fishing and there’s lots of people, it’s not so good.”
Administrators and teachers in the Coeur d’Alene School District are “struggling” to cope, said assistant superintendent Dave Teater.
The district was crowded at the start of the decade and is more crowded now, despite building two new schools and replacing a third, Teater said. The two middle schools have a combined enrollment of about 2,100 students, but are only supposed to hold about 1,400.
Patrick McGaughey, executive director of the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce, said growth is better than the alternative.
“Ten years ago, back in the early ‘80s, we were looking at people leaving the area and we thought that was a bad thing,” he said.
Pat Scott, owner of Scott’s Taxidermy in Colville, said he sees a lot more “no trespassing” signs than when he moved to Colville 30 years ago. But there’s still plenty of room to hunt and fish in his neck of the woods.
“I moved here, so why should I be upset if somebody else wants to do it?” he said.
On one point everyone agrees: The region’s growth isn’t likely to slow significantly anytime soon.
“As far as I know, the U.S. of A is still a free country and people can pick up and move anywhere they want,” McGaughey said.
“As far as North Idaho goes, it’s a wonderful place to live.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo; Graphic: Population growth