BOISE, Idaho (CN) — Ten years ago, a drive down the main road of Star, Idaho — a town of 5,000 people in 2010 — would take you through vistas common to the townships of rural Idaho. Battered barns, a corner mercantile shop and an old motel that the elementary school kids swore was haunted.
But today, 10 years and a tripled population later, that drive looks much different. The mercantile shop stands, but many of the barns have been torn down and replaced with modern homes. Development and construction are never far out of sight – or earshot. And where the old motel once stood sits a brand-new McDonalds, where the kids who used to dare each other to venture into the supernatural now walk into for a quick bite.
This has become a typical story across the Treasure Valley, Idaho’s central stretch of land tucked between its mountains where most of the state’s people live. Migrants from the West Coast make their pilgrimage to a state that markets itself as being a haven for uncomplicated living. Many settle down in its biggest city of Boise, but many more opt to settle in the small towns most Americans have never heard of. After years of this, those small towns don’t look so small.
Now the people of those towns, who once watched from afar as Boise endured its growing pains, are tasked with navigating those pains themselves. Some have embraced the change; others have decided to get out of Dodge. Many are somewhere in the middle.
Take Chuck Crowe, owner of a small store called Grandpa’s Attic in the town of Kuna. Chuck, who has been in Kuna all of his life and took over the store from his mother a decade ago, remembers when the town held just 500 people. Now it’s knocking on 30,000, and Chuck says that business has never been better.
“With more people, we get more business,” Chuck said. “Right now it’s some of the best we’ve ever had.”
But while Kuna’s growth has been good for his store, he is not without his own reservations.
“It’s too much, too fast,” he said. “And nothing around here is keeping up with it. I think the cities are getting greedy, and whatever comes across their desk, they sign off on it. We just need some time to catch up.”
Idahoans like Chuck are generally excited for growth and they know its benefits, but they fear it’s moving at a pace they can’t keep up with. They see constant construction, unprecedented traffic congestion and wonder if this is still the small town they’re used to.
“It’s hard to get anywhere,” Chuck said. “Every direction you turn, it’s solid construction. Everywhere you go you end up making six or seven detours because the road is being torn apart. . . And I see people that are looking for even smaller towns. People that have been here for years. I’ve known quite a few people who’ve decided it’s just become too much and moved where it’s smaller.”
Star and Kuna, though on opposite sides of the valley, have had similar reactions from locals when pressed about their growth. Many Kuna residents say were thrilled when the town got its first Arby’s location not long ago, but balked when their property taxes shot up to help expand the schools due to the influx of new families.
Star, meanwhile, is seeing houses that were sold for $200,000 a decade ago hit the market for triple that today, with a current median listing home price of $600,000. And they don't stay on the market long.