“Lone Eagles” nest in the West

“Lone Eagles” is our name for a growing group of freelance professionals who are abandoning life in large cities and their positions in the 9-to-5 world (usually in large corporations) to move back to small town America or an adjacent rural area.

These Lone Eagles are writers, analysts, brokers, consultants, manufacturer reps and others who live by their wits and connect with the outside world by using faxes, modems and airplane tickets. Upscale Lone Eagles end up in Aspen, Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Bend, Ore. Midscale Lone Eagles might be found anywhere ‹ but most nest in what Rand McNally calls the nation’s “mild and wild” areas, mostly in the West.

We call them Lone Eagles after the original Lone Eagle, Charles A. Lindbergh, who made the first solo, flight across the Atlantic in May 1927. But Lindbergh, a fiercely independent man, had many other achievements. He invented an artificial heart in the early 1930s. He participated in the design of the Boeing 747. He was a writer and an early leader of the conservation movement. But after the kidnapping and murder of his son, Lindbergh and his wife retreated to a far-off place in search of privacy and security.

Today’s Lone Eagles have many of Lindbergh’s qualities: audacity, independence, courage, inventiveness, a quest for privacy and safety, a desire to be their own boss, and an appreciation of natural and cultural amenities. And many, though certainly not all, have been hit with a mid-life jolt: Often the loss of a high-paying job in a large corporation, a mugging in a large city, choking on air pollution or a numbing experience with a big-city public school system.

The Lone Eagles we’ve described settle in. Most are in their productive years ‹ 40-55 years old. They are seeking a new way of life.

Lone Eagles should not be confused with city Slickers or Humming Birds. City Slickers are dude ranchers, tourists coming West for that unique experience: riding horses, running cattle, catching trout or other outdoor activity. Because this kind of life can be catching, City Slickers often become Lone Eagles.

What I call Humming Birds were described last year by New York Times reporter Tim Eagan: upscale types who fly into places like Montana and buy a 20-acre ranchette and build a little cabin to visit once or twice a year. Ted Turner, Dennis Quaid, Glenn Close, Michael Keaton, Brooke Shields are some of Montana’s better known Humming Birds.

Humming Birds seldom become Lone Eagles. And, unlike Lone Eagles, who sink their roots into a community, Humming Birds cause a lot of problems for locals. They take acreage out of cattle production, reducing the political influence of ranchers in state government.

Environmentalists charge that Humming Birds attract people and build fences and roads that make it harder for elk, deer and antelope herds of the Rocky Mountain West to move back and forth between winter and summer pastures.

Developers building ranchettes for Humming Birds drive up the cost of land. As land values go up, many locals are persuaded to sell out. As local property taxes go up, others are forced to sell out. As Eagan says, “the realtors . . . managed to do what no politician has yet been able to do: bring the ranchers and environmentalists together.”

So as more people come West, observers should be discriminating: Lone Eagles are a different breed from City Slickers or Humming Birds. Lone Eagles are always an asset and represent a new opportunity for rural economic development.

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