Mike McKenna


A typical day for Mike McKenna, executive director of The Chamber of Hailey and the Wood River Valley, is anything but typical. You could meet him up and down the Valley, anywhere from the cheery red Visitor Information and Welcome Center at the gateway to Hailey, to ribbon cuttings, Business After Hours gatherings, visiting with local business owners, and at special events from the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot to the blowout Fourth of July festivities. McKenna, literally, is everywhere.

“It’s definitely never boring,” Mike said. “My favorite part of the job is that we are different things to different people. We strive to assist everyone, from first-time visitors to the area from all over the region and the country, to local businesses, to lifelong residents. We help market businesses, showcasing what makes this whole Valley unique and amazing, as well as our one-of-a-kind community. We want to enhance, highlight, and celebrate our amazing quality of life.”

A typical atypical day involves “meetings, meetings, meetings,” Mike laughed, “with everyone from small business owners to political leaders, community leaders, and everyone in between.” It also involves picking up the phone, responding to emails, and chatting with people who pop into the Welcome Center with wide-ranging questions and requests. Need a recommendation of the right place for your family to stay while in town? Mike and his two colleagues have lots of ideas. Interested in learning how to Nordic ski? They will point you in the right direction. In town for a hockey tournament at Hailey Ice and need a place to feed the team? No problem. Have questions about a great spot for a birthday party or a wedding to remember? They’ve got you covered.

“Those are the more common types of questions,” Mike explained. “Then there are the others. We’ve gotten phone calls asking for help in tracking down long-lost friends or wondering why a street hasn’t been plowed yet. Like I said, it’s never boring!”

Mike, a Boston native, fell in love with the Wood River Valley as a young man after college, but the area caught his eye years before that. He explained, “When I was a kid, The Wide World of Sports was on one Saturday and they were covering the Nationals for skiing on Baldy. I remember stopping in my parents’ living room and thinking, ‘That’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my life.’ Years later, after college, I drove through, but it wasn’t until I was living in Seattle that my friend proclaimed that he was ‘done with the rain’ and we moved here. My first job was working on a tree farm, landscaping.”

He didn’t know it at the time, but Mike had roots in the Wood River Valley.  “It turns out I have a great-uncle who was the first captain of the Idaho National Guard,” Mike said. And his roots deepened quickly when he fell in love with Brooke, a Wood River Valley native, at the Pioneer Saloon over cocktails and artichokes. Now, the two are raising fifth-generation Idahoans, sons Jack, 11, and Sam, 9.

Raising his children in Hailey is one of Mike’s great joys. He coaches Sam, a Squirt hockey player, cheers on Jack, a Peewee hockey player, and also coaches Jack in Travel All-Star Baseball Little League. A writer at heart and by trade, Mike also finds the time to keep up with several columns and is an award-winning journalist and author. Down time is spent pursuing his passion for fishing and anything that can be ridden on two wheels.

Five questions for Mike:

WRW: What are you reading?

MM: Don Quixote. I’ve actually never read it and it’s great. The book I read before was by Christopher Moore, one of my favorite authors. I highly recommend him—very funny.

WRW: Any memorable date-night spots with Brooke?

MM: We recently had two really nice evenings out, one a dinner at Ketchum Grill and one dinner at the Limelight Hotel before an event at The Argyros.

WRW: What’s your favorite family fun spot?

MM: The boys love Lefty’s and it’s always nice to enjoy the deck and live music at The Wicked Spud in the summer.

WRW: Is it true that you’re something of a fishing aficionado?

MM: I’ve written two books on fishing, including Angling Around Sun Valley (editor’s note: named the Best Book of the Year by the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association). I love to fish, whether it’s on the Big Wood, hiking up to Norton Lake, or on any of our world-class area waters.

WRW: What’s your perfect day in the Wood River Valley?

MM:  I’m a warm-weather guy, so my perfect summer day would start with sleeping in and getting a great cup of coffee and some treats with my family at Hailey Coffee Company. Fishing would definitely be on the agenda next, followed by lunch outside. We have so many great al-fresco dining options, I’d have to see what kind of mood I was in before choosing. Getting a bike ride in would be the highlight of the afternoon, followed by a nice dinner and finding a great spot on the lawn to enjoy the Sun Valley Summer Symphony. Since it doesn’t get dark until after 10 p.m., I think I’d finish out the day sitting on my front porch with Brooke having a beer or a glass of Prosecco and watching the sun set. That would be pretty perfect.

Next time you see Mike lining people up for a parade, starting the Turkey Trot, greeting visitors at the Welcome Center, or making the rounds up and down the Valley, be sure to say hello and ask him pretty much anything.

“We really do believe there are no crazy or stupid questions. Just try us!” said McKenna with a laugh.

Find out more about The Chamber at valleychamber.org or call (208) 788-3494.

This is the first in a new weekly feature in the WRW. If you would like to recommend someone that the community should get to know better, please email us at XXX@XXXXXX with the subject line Someone to Meet.