DONNELLY, Idaho (AP) – The announcement that President Bush would spend two days vacationing in Donnelly next week mystified reporters at his ranch in Texas, prompting comments like “I can’t find it.”

Not even White House spokeswoman Dana Perino could say just where it was.

“We can look at a map and try to figure it out,” Perino said.

While not the easiest town to find on the map, Donnelly has become a premier destination for the wealthy in recent years – evidenced by the private jets at the area’s airport and the ski and golf resort carved from a nearby mountainside.

The median price of a home has risen by 116 percent in the past year, and some say the president’s seal of approval could only accelerate the rush to Donnelly, a town of 132 people about 80 miles north of Boise.

Many of the new arrivals are baby boomers on the edge of retirement who have already made their fortunes and are here to spend them.

“We’re in the midst of this continental migration into the mountains that’s been going on for a decade and a half and shows no signs of letting up,” said Dan Kemmis, a senior fellow at the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana. “As the most attractive and alluring spots or valleys get filled up, then the migration begins to focus on new places. We see that happening all over the West.”

Bush arrives in Valley County on Monday evening, following a speech in Salt Lake City. He plans no public events in Donnelly, but will speak Wednesday in Nampa, west of Boise.

The White House has said Bush will be staying at the exclusive Tamarack Resort while participating in activities that could include fishing for wild rainbow trout or riding a mountain bike on forest trails with Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, also a Republican.

Some locals think they know why Bush is skipping Sun Valley, the tony resort across the Sawtooth Mountains to the southeast where stars and politicians typically head in Idaho. In 2004, 72 percent of Valley County voters chose Bush, while Blaine County, home of Sun Valley, was the only one in Idaho that favored John Kerry, who has a home there.

The president’s helicopter will be kept at the airport in nearby McCall, on the southern shore of Payette Lake.

As airport manager Rick Harvey looks out from his office, two private jets have just taken off and two others – a Cessna Citation and a Dassault Falcon, each costing more than $2 million – shine in the sunlight. He says the region is starting to resemble Sun Valley.

“People say ‘In Sun Valley, the billionaires are crowding out the millionaires, and they’re coming here,”‘ Harvey said. “The baby boomers have a lot of discretionary income. They want a piece of this before it’s gone.”

Longtime residents say the changes come at a price.

While the 400 timber-industry jobs lost in a 2002 sawmill shutdown are being replaced by construction jobs, there’s a shortage of affordable housing for people filling those positions. It’s the same issue facing other resort communities in the West, including Sun Valley, Jackson, Wyo., and Park City, Utah.

According to a Valley County study, rents here have risen 50 percent since 2000. Mobile home parks are disappearing and recreational-vehicle parks are being used for employees, the study said, making it tough to fill some jobs because people who’d take them don’t have a place to live.

“During lunch today, I was in one of the local restaurants, and we were talking about what we would ask the president if he came in,” said Jerry Elrod, Donnelly’s town clerk. “The owner said ‘I’d probably ask him if he wanted a job. I need a cook.”‘


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