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The state of Idaho i /ˈaɪdəhoʊ/ is a state in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States of America. The state's largest city and capital is Boise. Residents are called "Idahoans." Idaho was admitted to the Union on July 3, 1890 as the 43rd state.
Idaho is a mostly mountainous state, with an area larger than all of New England. It is landlocked, surrounded by the states of Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Montana and the Canadian Province of British Columbia. However, the network of dams and locks on the Columbia River and Snake River make the city of Lewiston the farthest inland seaport on the west coast of the continental United States.
To residents of the state and regular visitors, Idaho is regarded as a highly outdoors-oriented community. Central Idaho is home to one of North America's oldest ski resorts, Sun Valley, where the world's first chairlift was installed. Snow sports are keystones of Idaho's identity, with a ski resort near almost every urban area. Whitewater rafting and kayaking are among the state's major pastimes. Hell's Canyon and the Salmon River boast some of North America's finest whitewater, with the nearby town of Riggins, ID serving as the state's informal whitewater capital. According to the US Census Bureau, in 2009 the population for Idaho was estimated to be 1,545,801. The state's postal abbreviation is ID. Idaho's nickname is the Gem State because nearly every known gem has been found there. In addition, Idaho is one of only two places in the world where star garnets can be found (the other is the Himalaya Mountains, in India), and is the only place six pointed star garnets have been found. The state motto is Esto Perpetua (Latin for "Let it be forever").
Idaho is the 14th largest state by land area.
Idaho borders six states and one Canadian province. The states of Washington and Oregon are to the west, Nevada and Utah are to the south, and Montana and Wyoming are to the east. Idaho also shares a short border with the Canadian province of British Columbia to the north. The landscape is rugged with some of the largest unspoiled natural areas in the United States. For example, at 2.3 million acres (9,300 km²), the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area is the largest contiguous area of protected wilderness in the continental United States. Idaho is a Rocky Mountain state with abundant natural resources and scenic areas. The state has snow-capped mountain ranges, rapids, vast lakes and steep canyons. The waters of Snake River rush through Hells Canyon, the deepest canyon in the United States.
Shoshone Falls plunges down rugged cliffs from a height greater than that of Niagara Falls. The major rivers in Idaho are the Snake River, the Clark Fork/Pend Oreille River, the Clearwater River, the Salmon River. Other significant rivers include the Coeur d'Alene River, the Spokane River, the Boise River, and the Payette River. The Salmon River empties into the Snake in Hells Canyon and forms the southern boundary of Nez Perce County on its north shore, of which Lewiston is the county seat. The Port of Lewiston, at the confluence of the Clearwater and the Snake Rivers is the farthest inland seaport on the West Coast at 465 river miles from the Pacific at Astoria, Oregon.
Idaho's highest point is Borah Peak, 12,662 ft (3,859 m), in the Lost River Range north of Mackay. Idaho's lowest point, 710 ft (216 m), is in Lewiston, where the Clearwater River joins the Snake River and continues into Washington. The Sawtooth Range is often considered Idaho's most famous mountain range. Other mountain ranges in Idaho include the Bitterroot Range, the White Cloud Mountains, the Lost River Range, the Clearwater Mountains, and the Salmon River Mountains.
Southern Idaho, including the Boise metropolitan area, Idaho Falls, Pocatello, and Twin Falls are in the Mountain Time Zone. (A legislative oddity (15 U.S.C. ch.6 §264) theoretically placed this region in the Central Time Zone, but this error was corrected with a 2007 Amendment.) Areas north of the Salmon River, including Coeur d'Alene, Moscow, Lewiston, and Sandpoint are in the Pacific Time Zone and revolve commercially and culturally around Seattle through the second largest city, Spokane, Washington.
Idaho has much variation in its climate. Although the state's western border is located about 350 miles (560 km) from the Pacific Ocean, the maritime influence is still felt in Idaho, especially in the winter when cloud cover, humidity, and precipitation are at their highest points. This influence has a moderating effect in the winter where temperatures are not as low as would otherwise be expected for a northern state with a mostly elevated altitude. The maritime influence is lowest in the southeastern part of the state where the precipitation patterns are often reversed, with wetter summers and drier winters, and seasonal temperature differences more extreme, showing a more continental climate.
Climate in Idaho can be hot, although extended periods over 100 °F (38 °C) for the maximum temperature are rare, except for the lowest point in elevation, Lewiston, which correspondingly sees very little snow. Hot summer days are tempered by the low relative humidity and cooler evenings during summer months since, for most of the state, the highest diurnal difference in temperature is often in the summer. Winters can be cold, although extended periods of bitter cold weather below zero are unusual. This is what led the railroad tycoon Harriman family to develop the most famous ski resort, Sun Valley.
Humans may have been present in the Idaho area as long as 14,500 years ago. Excavations at Wilson Butte Cave near Twin Falls in 1959 revealed evidence of human activity, including arrowheads, that rank among the oldest dated artifacts in North America. Native American tribes predominant in the area included the Nez Perce in the north and the Northern and Western Shoshone in the south.
Idaho, as part of the Oregon Country, was claimed by both the United States and Great Britain until the United States gained undisputed jurisdiction in 1846. From 1843 to 1849 present-day Idaho was under the de facto jurisdiction of the Provisional Government of Oregon. When Oregon became a state, what is now Idaho was in what was left of the original Oregon Territory not part of the new state, and designated as the Washington Territory.
Between then and the creation of the Idaho Territory on July 4, 1863 at Lewiston, parts of the present-day state were included in the Oregon, Washington, and Dakota Territories. The new territory included present-day Idaho and Montana and most of Wyoming. The Lewis and Clark expedition crossed Idaho in 1805 on the way to the Pacific and in 1806 on the return, largely following the Clearwater River both directions. The first non-indigenous settlement was Kullyspell House, established on the shore of Lake Pend Oreille for fur trading in 1809 by David Thompson of the North West Company. In 1812 Donald Mackenzie, working for the Pacific Fur Company at the time, established a post on the lower Clearwater River near present-day Lewiston. This post, known as "MacKenzie's Post" or "Clearwater", operated until the Pacific Fur Company was bought out by the North West Company in 1813, after which it was abandoned. The first attempts at organized communities, within the present borders of Idaho, were established in 1860. The first permanent, substantial incorporated community was Lewiston in 1861.
After some tribulation as a territory, including the illegal and chaotic transfer of the territorial capital from Lewiston in December 1864 to Boise in January 1865, disenfranchisement of Mormon polygamists upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1877, and a federal attempt to split the territory between Washington Territory which gained statehood in 1889, a year before Idaho, and the state of Nevada which had been a state since 1863, Idaho achieved statehood in 1890. The economy of the state, which had been primarily supported by metal mining, shifted towards agriculture, forest products and tourism.
In recent years, Idaho has expanded its commercial base as a tourism and agricultural state to include science and technology industries. Science and technology have become the largest single economic center (over 25% of the state's total revenue) within the state and are greater than agriculture, forestry and mining combined.
The Idaho State Historical Society and numerous local historical societies and museums preserve and promote Idaho’s cultural heritage.
Idaho was possibly named as the result of a hoax (the so-called "Idahoax") although this is disputed. The exact origin of the name remains a mystery. In the early 1860s, when the United States Congress was considering organizing a new territory in the Rocky Mountains, eccentric lobbyist George M. Willing suggested the name "Idaho," which he claimed was derived from a Shoshone language term meaning "the sun comes from the mountains" or "gem of the mountains." Willing later claimed that he had made up the name himself. Congress ultimately decided to name the area Colorado Territory when it was created in February 1861. Thinking they would get a jump on the name, locals named a community in Colorado "Idaho Springs".
However, the name "Idaho" did not go away. The same year Congress created Colorado Territory, a county called Idaho County was created in eastern Washington Territory. The county was named after a steamship named Idaho, which was launched on the Columbia River in 1860. It is unclear whether the steamship was named before or after Willing's claim was revealed. Regardless, a portion of Washington Territory, including Idaho County, was used to create Idaho Territory in 1863.
Despite this lack of evidence for the origin of the name, many textbooks well into the 20th century repeated as fact Willing's account that the name "Idaho" derived from the Shoshone term "ee-da-how".
The name "Idaho" may be derived from the Plains Apache word "ídaahę́" which means "enemy." The Comanches used this word to refer to the Idaho Territory.
An excerpt from an Idaho History Textbook:
Chief Joseph Seltice, of the Coeur d'Alene Tribal Nation, posits another possible origin of the name. In his history of the tribe, Saga of the Coeur d'Alene Indians, he writes:
Some sources claim that the name "Idaho" comes from an Indian word, "Ee-dah-how," meaning "Gem of the Mountains." This expression may have come from some other Tribe, and it would have a different meaning for them than it would for the Coeur d'Alenes.
As of 2005, Idaho has an estimated population of 1,429,096, which is an increase of 33,956, or 2.4%, from the prior year and an increase of 135,140, or 10.4%, since the year 2000. This includes a natural increase since the last census of 58,884 people (that is 111,131 births minus 52,247 deaths) and an increase due to net migration of 75,795 people into the state. Immigration from outside the United States resulted in a net increase of 14,522 people, and migration within the country produced a net increase of 61,273 people.
This made Idaho the sixth fastest-growing state after Arizona, Nevada, Florida, Georgia, and Utah. From 2004 to 2005, Idaho grew the third-fastest, surpassed only by Nevada and Arizona.
Nampa, the state's second largest city, has experienced particularly strong growth in recent years. According to census estimates Nampa has grown 22.1% to nearly 65,000 residents between 2000 and 2003. As of 2007, the population in Nampa was estimated at 84,000. Growth of 5% or more over the same period has also been observed in Caldwell, Coeur d'Alene, Meridian, Post Falls and Twin Falls.
Since 1990, Idaho's population has increased by 386,000 (38%).
The Boise Metropolitan Area (officially known as the Boise City-Nampa, ID Metropolitan Statistical Area) is Idaho's largest metropolitan area. Other metropolitan areas in order of size are Coeur d'Alene, Idaho Falls, Pocatello and Lewiston.
As of 2006, six official micropolitan statistical areas are based in Idaho. Twin Falls is the largest of these.
The center of population of Idaho is located in Custer County, in the town of Stanley.
The largest reported ancestries in the state are: German (18.9%), English (18.1%), Irish (10%), American (8.4%), Norwegian (3.6%), and Swedish (3.5%).
According to the 15th annual Idaho Public Policy study (, 2004) by the Social Science Research Center at BSU, the ambiguous religious affiliations of Idahoans break down roughly as follows.
The largest denominations by number of adherents in 2000 were The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with 311,425; (2008: 406,764) the Roman Catholic Church with 130,847; the Assemblies of God with 18,745; and the United Methodist Church with 17,683.
Gross state product for 2004 was US$43.6 billion. The per capita income for 2004 was US$26,881. Idaho is an important agricultural state, producing nearly one-third of the potatoes grown in the United States. All three varieties of wheat, Dark Northern Spring, Hard Red and Soft White are grown in the state. Nez Perce County is considered a premier Soft White growing locale.
Important industries in Idaho are food processing, lumber and wood products, machinery, chemical products, paper products, electronics manufacturing, silver and other mining, and tourism. The world's largest factory for barrel cheese, the raw product for processed cheese is located in Gooding, Idaho. It has a capacity of 120,000 metric tons per year of barrel cheese and belongs to the Glanbia group. The Idaho National Laboratory (INL), a government lab for nuclear energy research, is also an important part of the eastern Idaho economy. Idaho also is home to three facilities of Anheuser-Busch which provide a large part of the malt for breweries located across the nation.
Locally, a variety of industries are important. Outdoor recreation is a common example ranging from numerous snowmobile and downhill and cross-country ski areas in winter to the evolution of a Lewiston as a retirement community based on mild winters, dry year around climate and one of the lowest median wind velocities anywhere, combined with the rivers for a wide variety of activities. Other examples would be ATK Corporation operates three ammunition and ammunition components plants in Lewiston. Two are sporting and one is defense contract. The Lewis-Clark Valley has an additional independent ammunition components manufacturer and the Chipmunk rifle factory. Four of the world's six welded aluminum jet boat (for running river rapids) manufacturers are in the Lewiston-Clarkston, WA valley. Wine grapes were grown between Kendrick and Julietta in the Idaho Panhandle by the French Rothchilds until Prohibition. In keeping with this, while there are no large wineries or breweries in Idaho, there are numerous and growing numbers of award winning boutique wineries and microbreweries in the northern part of the state.
Today, the largest industry in Idaho is the science and technology sector. It accounts for over 25% of the State's total revenue and 70%+ of the State's exports (in dollars). Idaho's industrial economy is growing, with high-tech products leading the way. Since the late 1970s, Boise has emerged as a center for semiconductor manufacturing. Boise is the home of Micron Technology Inc., the only U.S. manufacturer of dynamic random access memory (DRAM) chips. Micron at one time manufactured desktop computers, but with very limited success. Hewlett-Packard has operated a large plant in Boise since the 1970s, which is devoted primarily to LaserJet printers production. Dell, Inc. operates a major customer support call center in Twin Falls. ON Semiconductor, whose worldwide headquarter locates in Pocatello, is a widely recognized innovator in modern integrated mixed-signal semiconductor products, mixed-signal foundry services, and structured digital products. Coldwater Creek, a women's clothing retailer, is headquartered in Sandpoint. Fortune 500 Sun Microsystems has two offices in Boise and a parts depot in Pocatello. Sun brings $4M in annual salaries and over $300M of revenue to the state each year.
A number of Fortune 500 companies started in or trace their roots to Idaho, including JC Penney (as The Golden Rule) in Twin Falls, Safeways in American Falls, Albertsons in Boise, JR Simplot across southern Idaho, Potlatch Corp. in Lewiston and Zimmerly Air Transport in Lewiston-Clarkston was one of the five companies in the merger centered around Varney Flying Service of Pasco, Washington, which became United Air Lines and subsequently Varney Air Group that became Continental Airlines.
The state personal income tax ranges from 1.6% to 7.8% in eight income brackets. Idahoans may apply for state tax credits for taxes paid to other states, as well as for donations to Idaho state educational entities and some nonprofit youth and rehabilitation facilities.
The state sales tax is 6% with a very limited, selective local option up to 6.5%. Sales tax applies to the sale, rental or lease of tangible personal property and some services. Food is taxed, but prescription drugs are not. Hotel, motel, and campground accommodations are taxed at a higher rate (7% to 11%). Some jurisdictions impose local option sales tax.
Idaho has a state gambling lottery which contributed $333.5 million in payments to all Idaho public schools and Idaho higher education from 1990 - 2006.
The energy landscape of Idaho is favorable to the development of renewable energy systems. The state is rich in renewable energy resources but has limited fossil fuel resources. The Snake River Plain and smaller river basins provide Idaho with some of the best hydroelectric power resources in the nation and its geologically active mountain areas have significant geothermal power and wind power potential. These realities have shaped much of the state’s current energy landscape.
The state’s numerous river basins allow hydroelectric power plants to provide 556 thousand MWh, which amounts to about three-fourths of Idaho’s electricity output. Washington State provides most of the natural gas used in Idaho through one of the two major pipeline systems supplying the state. Although the state relies on out-of-state sources for its entire natural gas supply, it uses natural gas-fired plants to generate 127 thousand MWh, or about ten percent of its output. Coal-fired generation and the state’s small array of wind turbines supplies the remainder of the state’s electricity output. The state produces 739 thousand MWh but still needs to import half of its electricity from out-of-state to meet demand.
While Idaho’s 515 trillion Btu total energy consumption is relatively low compared to other states and represents just 0.5% of United States consumption, the state also has the nation’s 11th smallest population, 1.5 million, so its per capita energy consumption of 352 million Btu is currently just above the national average of 333 million Btu. As the 13th largest state in land area, distance creates the additional problem of "line loss". When the length of an electrical transmission line is doubled, the resistance to an electric current passing through it is also doubled.
In addition, Idaho also has the 6th fastest growing population in the United States with the population expected to increase by 31% from 2008 to 2030. This projected increase in population will contribute to a 42% increase in demand by 2030, further straining Idaho’s finite hydroelectric resources. Given that Idaho has no crude oil reserves and a limited supply of natural gas, the state’s most realistic method of meeting this projected increase in demand is to develop its ample renewable resources or nuclear.
Idaho is among the few states in the nation without a major freeway linking the two largest metropolitan areas of Boise in the south and Coeur d'Alene in the north. US-95 links the two ends of the state, but like many other highways in Idaho, it is badly in need of repair and upgrade. In 2007, the Idaho Transportation Department stated that the state's highway infrastructure faces a $200 million per year shortfall in maintenance and upgrades. Interstate 84 is the main highway linking the Southeast and Southwest portions of the state, along with Interstate 86 and Interstate 15.
Major federal aid highways in Idaho:
Major airports include the Boise Airport serving the southwest region of Idaho, and the Spokane International Airport (located in Spokane, Washington), which serves northern Idaho. Other airports with scheduled service are the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport serving the Palouse; the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Airport, serving the Lewis-Clark Valley and north central Idaho; The Magic Valley Regional Airport in Twin Falls; the Idaho Falls Regional Airport; and the Pocatello Regional Airport.
Idaho is served by two transcontinental railroads. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) connects North Idaho with Seattle, Portland and Spokane to the west, and Minneapolis and Chicago to the east. The BNSF travels through Kootenai, Bonner and Boundary Counties. The Union Pacific Railroad crosses southern Idaho traveling between Portland, Green River, WY, and Ogden, Utah and serves Boise, Nampa, Twin Falls, and Pocatello. Amtrak's Empire Builder crosses northern Idaho, with its only stop being in Sandpoint. There has been a push recently to return Amtrak service to southern Idaho as well.
The Port of Lewiston is the farthest inland Pacific port on the west coast. A series of dams and locks on the Snake River and Columbia River facilitate barge travel from here to Portland, where goods are loaded on ocean-going vessels.
The Constitution of Idaho is roughly modeled on the national constitution with several additions. The constitution defines the form and function of the state government, and may be amended through plebiscite. Notably, the state constitution presently requires the state government to maintain a balanced budget. As result, Idaho has limited debt (construction bonds, etc.).
All of Idaho's state laws are contained in the Idaho Code. The code is amended through the Legislature with the approval of the Governor.
The constitution of Idaho provides for three branches of government: the executive, legislative and judicial branches. Idaho has a bicameral legislature, elected from 35 legislative districts, each represented by one senator and two representatives. Idaho still operates under its original (1889) state constitution.
Since 1946, statewide elected constitutional officers have been elected to four-year terms. They include: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Controller (Auditor before 1994), Treasurer, Attorney General, and Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Last contested in 1966, Inspector of Mines was an original elected constitutional office. Afterward it was an appointed position and ultimately done away with entirely in 1974.
Idaho's government has an alcohol monopoly.
The governor of Idaho serves a four-year term, and is elected during what is nationally referred to as midterm elections. As such, the governor is not elected in the same election year as the president of the United States. The current governor is Republican C. L. "Butch" Otter, who was elected in 2006.
Idaho's legislature is part-time. However, the session may be extended if necessary, and often is. Because of this, Idaho's legislators are considered "citizen legislators", meaning that their position as a legislator is not their main occupation.
Terms for both the Senate and House of Representatives are two years. Legislative elections occur every even numbered year.
The Idaho Legislature has been continuously controlled by the Republican Party since the late 1950s, although Democratic legislators are routinely elected from Boise, Pocatello, Blaine County and the northern Panhandle.
See also List of Idaho senators and representatives
The highest court in Idaho is the Idaho Supreme Court. There is also an intermediate appellate court, the Idaho Court of Appeals, which hears cases assigned to it from the Supreme Court. The state's District Courts serdistricts.
Idaho is divided into political jurisdictions designated as counties. As of 1919 there were 44 counties in the state, ranging in size from 410 to 8,502 square miles (1,062 to 22,020 square kilometers).
Total Counties: 44. Total 2008 Population Est.: 1,523,816. Total Area: 87,530 square miles.
Three counties were first designated as such by the Washington Territorial Legislature in 1861; they were subsequently re-designated as Idaho counties in 1864. The 1861 Nez Perce county has since been broken up into Nez Perce, Lewis, Boundary, Benewah, Latah, Kootenai and Clearwater counties.
Idaho license plates begin with a county designation based on the first letter of the county's name. Where a letter is at the beginning of more than one name, the a number accompanies precedingly in alphabetical order. This reflects an anomalous coicidental situation wherein 10 counties begin with B, seven with C and four with L, which is 21 of the 44 counties.
After the Civil War, many Midwestern and Southern Democrats moved to the Idaho Territory. As a result, the early territorial legislatures were solidly Democrat-controlled. In contrast, most of the territorial governors were appointed by Republican presidents and were Republicans themselves. This led to sometimes bitter clashes between the two parties, including a range war with the Democrats backing the sheep herders and the Republicans the cattlemen. That ended with the "Diamondfield" Jack Davis murder trial. In the 1880s, Republicans became more prominent in local politics.
Since statehood, the Republican Party has usually been the dominant party in Idaho, as there was a polar shift in social and political stance between the two parties, when the Democrats became more liberal and the Republicans more conservative. At one time, Idaho had two Democratic parties, one being the mainstream and the other called the Anti-Mormon Democrats, lasting into the early 20th century. In the 1890s and early 1900s, the Populist Party enjoyed prominence while the Democratic Party maintained a brief dominance in the 1930s during the Great Depression. Since World War II, most statewide elected officials have been Republicans. The last time the Democratic Party held a majority in either house of the state legislature was the House of Representatives in 1958 by one seat.
Idaho Congressional delegations have also been generally Republican since statehood. Several Idaho Democrats have had electoral success in the House over the years, but the Senate delegation has been a Republican stronghold for decades. Several Idaho Republicans, including current Senator Mike Crapo, have won reelection to the Senate, but only Frank Church has won reelection as a Democrat. Church was the last Idaho Democrat to win a U.S. Senate race, in 1974. Walt Minnick's 2008 win in the First Congressional District was the state's first Democratic Congressional victory in 16 years.
In modern times, Idaho has been a reliably Republican state in presidential politics as well. It has not supported a Democrat for president since 1964. Even in that election, Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater in the state by fewer than two percentage points, compared to a landslide nationally. In 2004, Republican George W. Bush carried Idaho by a margin of 38 percentage points and with 68.4% of the vote, winning in 43 of 44 counties. Only Blaine County, which contains the Sun Valley ski resort, supported John Kerry, who owns a home in the area. In 2008 Barack Obama's 36.1 percent showing was the best for a Democratic presidential candidate in Idaho since 1976. However, Republican margins were narrower in 1992 and 1996.
In the 2006 elections, Republicans, led by gubernatorial candidate C. L. "Butch" Otter, won all the state's constitutional offices and retained both of the state's seats in the United States House of Representatives. However, Democrats picked up several seats in the Idaho Legislature, notably in the Boise area.
Republicans lost one of the House seats in 2008 to Minnick, but Republican Jim Risch retained Larry Craig's Senate seat for the GOP by a comfortable margin.
Population > 100,000 (urbanized area)
Population > 50,000 (urbanized area)
Population > 30,000 (urbanized area)
Population > 10,000 (urbanized area)
Smaller Towns and Cities
City of Rocks National Reserve
Craters of the Moon National Monument
The Idaho State Board of Education oversees three comprehensive universities. The University of Idaho in Moscow was the first university in the state (founded in 1889). A land-grant institution, the UI is the state's flagship university. Idaho State University in Pocatello opened in 1901 as the Academy of Idaho and was granted university status in 1963. Boise State University is the most recent school to attain university status in Idaho, and is primarily geared toward being a commuter school for part-time undergraduate students. The school opened in 1932 as Boise Junior College and became Boise State University in 1974. Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston is the only public, non-university 4 year college in Idaho.
Idaho has three regional community colleges: North Idaho College in Coeur d'Alene; College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls; and The College of Western Idaho in Nampa, which opened in 2009.
Private institutions in Idaho are Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg, which is affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; The College of Idaho in Caldwell, which still maintains a loose affiliation with the Presbyterian Church; Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa; New Saint Andrews College in Moscow, of reformed Christian theological background; and Southern Bonneville University, a private non for profit university affiliated with the Catholic Church.
Southern Bonneville University
Boise is the host to the largest 5 km run for women, the St. Luke's Women's Fitness Celebration.