Could Winter Texans Become Extinct?

The University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA), which has tracked Winter Texansfor 25 years through a voluntary biennial survey, found that the average age of respondents in 2011 was 71.2, compared with 70 in 2010, 69.5 in 2008, and 68.7 in 2006.

The Roseate Spoonbill uses its long, flat, spoon-shaped bil to strain small food items out of the water. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 2006, nearly 10 percent of respondents were younger than 60, but last winter only 4 percent were. Similarly, respondents this year said they had been coming to the Valley an average 10.4 years, compared with 9.1 years in 2010 and 2008 and 8.8 years in 2006.

The responses suggest that the same Winter Texans may be returning to the Rio Grande Valley year after year without being replaced with new, younger ones, reports The Monitor.

“It is (a concern) to me and I would think it should be to the Valley businesses that are interested in targeting Winter Texans,” said Penny Simpson, who co-authored the study.

There is no way to tell for sure if the survey results from 1,443 of the estimated 133,400 Winter Texans represent an accurate sample. It is possible that older people responded more, but if so, that would be a shift from past years.

Overall numbers of Winter Texans are difficult to capture, but believed to be down slightly from an estimated 144,000 in 2010.

Janet Poor, manager of Shady Acres RV Park in Donna told The Monitor that every year at her 300-plus-site park the faces are the same. “We’re getting the same ones coming down,” she said.

The great kiskadee is a large member of the flycatcher family. It is about ten inches in length. It has black and white stripes on the crown and sides of its head. It has a white line above its eyes. Its chest and undersides are a bright yellow and its throat is white. Its back and wings are brown and its bill and legs are black. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“I would love to get new people down here.”

Poor said that in her experience, national media attention on border problems made it difficult to recruit new visitors.

“When we get calls from new people asking about down here, the first thing they ask is: ‘How bad is it down there?’” she said.

But the vast majority of wintering retirees who do come to the Valley are still visiting Mexico — 84 percent, down from 95 percent in 2006. Several observers said the study is on par with their experiences.

Joe Nelson, 71, who has lived year-round at the McAllen Mobile Home Park for a decade, said that park has some 14 new units this year—but they’re all moving from other area parks.

“The young stuff isn’t coming,” he said.

Others in the Valley said they are still seeing young retirees come to town. Rod Graham, who operates a San Juan business creating photo directory books of Winter Texans for dozens of parks and operates the website, The Winter Texan Connection, said the survey findings did not align with his experience.

“I won’t dispute their average, but from my experience, I am seeing the baby boomers come,” said Graham, 57.

“I’ve been down here 13 years and when I came down here, everything was country western … Within the last three or four years we’ve had rock ’n’ roll bands go play in the parks and to me that’s indicative of my generation.”

Graham added that he has not noticed any demographic shifts in the hundreds of Winter Texans he photographs and has seen hugely increased traffic on his website, which he attributes to a potentially younger crowd viewing it.

Area cities are paying attention to the needs of the Winter Texans, who contributed some $800 million to the economy in 2010, according to the study.

Martha Noell, president of the Weslaco Chamber of Commerce, presented the findings to the City Commission last month and discussed things the city could do to attract visitors from colder climates, including keeping areas clean and marketing up north.

The colorful green jay is usually seen in brushy areas and dense woods in the lower Rio Grande Valley.. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Luis Bazan, president of the Pharr Chamber of Commerce, said many businesses in the city had noticed a Winter Texan decline overall, but that there did seem to be some newcomers, which he called “a new breed” looking for different activities.

Simpson agreed and said she would consider further analysis on what types of activities the next generation of retirees prefers.

“That’s an important question I think we need to have answered: How do we target baby boomers?” she said.

UTPA Survey Average Winter Texan ages by year:

  • 2012: 71.2
  • 2010: 70
  • 2008: 69.5
  • 2006: 68.7

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