Winter Texans Expected in Record Numbers

A tough economy, high gas prices, and violence in Mexico didn’t stop snowbirds from driving to the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) to join Winter Texans whose numbers rebounded to hit a record last year.

La Lomita ("little hill") is a small hill and the adjoining historical site of a former mission and ranch headquarters maintained by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. It is located near the Rio Grande five miles south of Mission in southwestern Hidalgo County. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Valley’s low cost of living helps lure many here. Price is a very big factor, especially given the current economic conditions, reports The Brownsville Herald.

The RGV offers a lower cost of living than other snowbird roosts such as Florida, Arizona, and California. Site fees are cheaper, about two-thirds the price of Florida.

Winter Texans came to the Valley in record numbers last year after a decline that followed the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, said Penny Simpson, a professor who researches tourism at the University of Texas-Pan American.

“We’re back up to the (pre-9/11) level,” Simpson said.

But Mexico’s drug violence could cut numbers this year after news hit the Midwestern states that most Winter Texans call home, Simpson said.

Numbers hit a peak of 143,000, generating $329 million in 2001, before dropping off following the terror attacks that shocked the national economy, Simpson said. By 2005, numbers had fallen to 127,000.

The Magic Valley’s early 20th Century transition into an agricultural powerhouse is retold at the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse, which also embraces nature conservation as a wing of the World Birding Center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But last year, 144,000 Winter Texans came to the Valley, setting a new record and pumping $802.5 million into the local economy, Simpson said.

“I think people are getting their confidence back,” she said.

Lon Huff, the manager at Sunshine RV Resort in Harlingen, said this year’s numbers are up.

The park filled 89 percent of its 1,027 spaces last year, he said.

“We’re definitely ahead of last year, which was a very good year,” Huff said.

But at Country Sunshine RV Resort in Weslaco, Mexico’s violence is keeping some Winter Texans away, manager Melissa Cortez said.

This year, bookings are down about 30 percent at the park with 377 spaces, she said.

“My numbers are a bit down this season,” Cortez said. “The publicity we’re getting because of the Mexico issue has really hit us hard. A lot of them don’t know they can still go to Progreso and it’s OK.”

High gas prices have led many Winter Texans to drive down in their cars and rent RVs at the park, Cortez said.

“That’s a trend,” she said.

But gas prices didn’t stop Roy Ridlon from driving his 41-foot motor home to Sunshine RV Resort in Harlingen.

From his home in Embarrass, Minnesota, about 30 miles from the Canadian border, it cost nearly $1,000 to fuel up for the trip, said Ridlon, a retired operating engineer.

“To heat your home in the Snowbelt would cost more than the drive down here,” Ridlon said.

Grren jay takes a bath at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in deep, South Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Fun N Sun, Winter Texans are arriving earlier this year, Bonnie Dominguez, the park’s manager, said.

“We’ve had more residents come back earlier this year than years before,” she said. “I’m feeling we’re going to have a great year.”

Simpson said Mexico’s violence could cut the numbers of Winter Texans this year.

Last year, news of Mexico’s drug violence hadn’t hit hard in the Midwestern states before Winter Texans left for their annual pilgrimage to the Valley, she said.

But this year, the news has spread across the United States and Canada, she said.

“We really don’t know the impact yet,” Simpson said.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…
You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.

—Davy Crockett

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