The Nicest Place in Idaho: Hidden Springs

When illness nearly caused a beloved shop owner to close the doors, one group came to the rescue: Her customers.

For ten years, Joan Peterson had tried to make life better for the people of Hidden Springs, Idaho. When the community had the chance to return the favor, it did.

In 2008, Peterson and her husband bought the Dry Creek Mercantile, a cluster of stores and services that sits at the heart of Hidden Springs. It's the place where kids meet after school, where adults gather for a drink or a meal, where families come to host a wedding or graduation. It was hard work for just the two of them, running such a big operation. Things got a lot harder when her husband fell ill. And that's when her neighbors showed her what they were made of.

"I was driving to the hospital, maybe three days before my husband passed away, and I went past the business and there were all these cars in the parking lot," she says. "Later I found out that about 125 people came in and gave it a cleaning. Top to bottom, like it was new. I didn't ask for it. They just did it."

After losing her husband two years ago, Peterson briefly considered leaving "the Merc," but discovered that her neighbors were not going to let her go that easily.

"It's a big operation to run by myself. But they just kept helping me," she says. "I could have walked away. But I can't, because I love it. This is my family."

Hidden Springs is a planned community of about 800 homes, just outside Boise, designed by its founders to avoid typical suburban sprawl and replicate an old-fashioned American small town. Instead of cul-de-sacs and rows of identical homes, it features walkable streets, unique homes, and a network of trails and carefully-preserved open spaces. Instead of strip malls and parking lots, it has the Merc and its big green space, where concerts and events take place all year.

But residents say it's the people who truly make it special.

"We were out walking, and we heard the sound of laughter, so we went over," recalls B. J. Shook, who nominated Hidden Springs. They found about thirty kids and parents goofing around on a homemade ice-skating rink that a bunch of dads had built next to an old barn. "It was like a Norman Rockwell picture," she says.

—The Editors

The Nomination

Children are safe and neighbors take care of each other.

hidden springs idahoCourtesy Elizabeth Shook
In Hidden Springs, family is more important than commerce.

Neighbors show up with food, when the moving trucks arrive, and keep surprising you thereafter. Kids can leave their books on lawns or by the side of the road, and they will be there in the morning. People insert doggie doors in their fences so their pets can come over and don't have to be alone all day. There are scarecrow contests and a neighbor-installed ice skating rink at the community farm. There is a Mercantile called The Merc which is the heart of town. The homes are all different, and painted beautifully. No row after row if cookie-cutter homes. When someone is sick or dies, everyone steps up to help take care of pets or children. When it snows, the neighbors rush out to snow-blow your walk and driveway. When you travel, there will be at least four offers to look after your pets and/or home. There is a community garden and farm. The streets are lined with American flag on all patriotic holidays. There's an ice cream and lemonade stand in summer and you can find neighbors visiting on front porches most spring and summer evenings. It's a slower pace of life. It harkens to a different of time, when family was more important than commerce. If it takes a village, the this place is THE village.

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