Sandpoint is a small resort town on the edge of a large lake in North Idaho . Sandpoint's popularity is partly due to the beautiful, still pristine nature of Lake Pend Oreille , the fifth largest natural lake in the forty-eight lower states. In recent years, Sandpoint has gained even greater standing as a resort town by its connection to Schweitzer Mountain Resort, a winter ski basin known for its quality powder snow.
Graced by the Cabinet Mountains to the east and the Selkirk Mountains northwest of Sandpoint, this region is classic north woods country. There’s still plenty of land here offering a rich rural life to those who like the great outdoors. We have quality fishing, excellent hunting, and unsurpassed skiing. We have white water kayaking near at hand, and quiet water for the more serene at heart. We are blessed with a rich cultural heritage too by the fact that the area has attracted many notable artists and musicians. They, like many of our residents, migrated here to enjoy this insurmountable beauty of the mountains, the many lakes and plentiful green forests of this region.
Yet unlike more remote settings, Bonner, Kootenai and Boundary counties collectively enjoy a thriving economy in recent times. Only 75 miles from Spokane , Washington , we still have plenty of land to greet the many people choosing to retire or otherwise live here to do business or recreate.
Sandpoint community is the proud home of Litehouse Dressings and Coldwater Creek, two self-made nationally recognized firms who’s business plans have prospered into very productive enterprises, and consequently provided hundreds of area residents with good-paying jobs. Anchor companies like Walmart, and Home Depot have seen North Idaho ’s vision as well, building to meet the rising demand, which includes many Canadians who come here for recreation.
Sandpoint Airport recently expanded its airstrip to accommodate an increasing number of corporate jets and dozens of sport and recreational private planes.
Though Spokane International Airport is only one and a half hours away, demand for daily flights in and out of Sandpoint (direct to Seattle and Boise) has brought a strong consideration from commuter airlines.
Sandpoint may look larger than it is in reality due to the fact that three independent communities have grown in recent times to the point that the undiscerning eye would not know of the civic separation. The boundaries are not necessarily visible. From the air, Ponderay, Kootenai and Sandpoint look like one town. Yet each has its own city hall, city officials and police officers. Another bordering community already nearly drawn in to the overview is the little river town of Dover , west of Sandpoint. An expansion of waterfront condos and lake properties has created a nearly complete line of housing connecting city limits of each.
At the top of the four communities, Ponderay is probably the fastest growing in Bonner County . It has more available land for one thing, for commercial development and though residential accommodations are being constructed, its sure boom appears to be due to the strong likelihood that the Sand Creek Byway will soon be constructed on the Burlington Railroad right of way directly east of Sandpoint’s busy downtown. Separated from Sandpoint by Sand Creek, the city of Ponderay stretches north and west like the blade of a carpet cutter with its southern most point reaching nearly all the way to Sandpoint’s famous City Beach . It therefore became the natural path for receiving the reconstruction of Highway 95 now in the works with the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD).
Ponderay still has an old part of town, a small sector of residential streets east of Highway 200. But it’s barred more or less from lakefront development by the fact that Burlington Northern owns the wooded right of way along the clay shores of Kootenai Bay . The effect from the lake gives unsuspecting boaters the idea that that part of Lake Pend Oreille has no community. A strong line of trees including birch, cottonwood, cedar, white pine and Douglas fir among others presents this scene from the lake.
Kootenai, a smaller town immediately east of Ponderay has some older houses still available but is also seeing new construction. But Kootenai is a very small township compared to the land available in Ponderay. Across the highway toward the lake from Kootenai is a popular community development known as Ponder Point, which generally contains higher income housing by virtue of its proximity to the big pond.
Idaho ’s Panhandle has other communities in the area as well. Over time, I’ll treat those separately. But for now, going east toward Montana you pass through the wonderful setting of Hope , Idaho , which looks out over the greater expanse of our magnificent lake. Immediately adjacent, but independent, is East Hope and further on, Clark Fork . I’m only mentioning the communities with city charters at this point. There are a number of rural communities and districts that have no elected officials but can be recognized by name. I’ll treat those in another article in this series.
North of Ponderay, along Highway 95 is the small rural town of Naples . It has a post office, a store, a bar and a very good restaurant (JJ Cookshack), some area lodging and an RV camping park. Further north is the small town of Bonners Ferry and east of it, Moyie Springs. West of Sandpoint, beyond Dover is Laclede, a small rural community similar to Naples . Beyond Laclede is the lumber town of Priest River , which in turn is about the size and texture of Bonners Ferry for culture. South of Sandpoint just a few short miles off the end of the Long Bridge is the growing community of Sagle. Much further (about halfway to Coeur d’Alene ) you’ll pass through the edge of Athol. If you turn left you’ll go to Bayview; turn right for Spirit Lake and Rathdrum; go straight south to Hayden and Coeur d’Alene . All of this is to hardly mention the fairly new alpine community of Schweitzer Basin , northwest and uphill from Sandpoint and visible to most county residents. This sometime eclectic and yet wisely built collection of homes and condominiums supports a thriving winter-time community at Schweitzer Mountain Resort.
So you can see, our rich and diverse region offers many lifestyle opportunities. It’s a little known fact that the Idaho Panhandle has the highest per capita number of millionaires living in the area smaller than New Jersey . It also has a substantial workforce of capable people willing to work, most of whom are by nature hard workers.
Meanwhile, drive safely. Keep your eyes open for moose and deer. You might even see a bear or two, certainly turkeys here and there. And if you get a chance to sample some of the lakes, you’ll catch a variety of healthy fish in the rich region of Northern Idaho .