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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Fewer Winter Texans at Valley RV Parks

If you’re thinking about coming down to Texas this winter, come on down, y’all!

A "Valley Specialty", the green jay takes a bath. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Campgrounds, RV parks, and resorts in the Rio Grande Valley report fewer Winter Texans this year, The Monitor reports.

A lackluster economy, drug violence in Mexico, fewer people retiring early, and health concerns have caused a drop in the number of Winter Texans visiting Rio Grande Valley RV parks this season, park managers and residents say.

Numbers are down as much as 25 percent at many RV parks at the start of the season that runs from January through February, they said.

“They were great last year, but this year they’re down,” Barbara North, manager of First Colony Mobile and RV Park in San Benito, said.

First Colony has seen a 15 percent decrease due to the nation’s tough economy and fear of violence in Mexico, North said.

“The numbers have grown until this year,” she said.

In 2010, the number of Winter Texans reached a record high, with 144,000 driving to the Valley, said Penny Simpson, a professor who researches tourism at the University of Texas-Pan American.

The 2010 season saw numbers slowly rebounding from the slump that followed the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, she said. Before 9/11, the numbers had peaked at 143,000, reports The Monitor.

The world's largest killer bee makes its home at Hidalgo. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A summer 2011 survey of 130 Winter Texans hinted numbers could drop about 5 percent this winter, Simpson said.

“We were trying to get a feel if the numbers were down,” Simpson said.

The survey asked whether health, gas prices, the economy, or violence and terrorism would influence Winter Texans’ decision to spend the winter in the Valley, Simpson said.

In her survey, Winter Texans cited health as the top factor behind their decision to stay home this year, Simpson said.

The Winter Texan industry is a major driver of the Valley’s economy, Simpson said, adding that in 2010, Winter Texans pumped $802.5 million into the local economy.

Anita Pearson, manager of Park Place Estates RV park in Harlingen said, “They’re a little down from what they were last year,” about 5 percent lower than last year, when the 859-site park was at 85 percent capacity.

Pearson blamed the drop on a national trend that’s leading Americans to work past the traditional retirement age of 65.

“People are working longer. They’re not retiring as young,” Pearson said. “We’re not getting early retirees because people are not retiring as early as they used to. They’re doing other things, like taking cruises and time shares and not staying in one place for six months.”

Barbara Baumhofer, a retired factory supervisor from Mora, Minnesota, said hard times and illness among an aging Winter Texan population dropped numbers from 7 to 10 percent at Victoria Palms Resort in Donna.

Bonnie Klaver said she hasn’t seen as many younger retirees at Texas Trails RV Resort in Pharr.

Visit the historic mansion, Quinta Mazatland, the McAllen wing of the World Birding Center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“The younger people aren’t coming down as much,” said Klaver, a retired farmer from Webster City, Iowa, who has spent 11 winters in the Valley. “They aren’t RVers. They probably don’t have the money to do it yet.”

For decades, the All Valley RV Show has been a top attraction for Winter Texans, but numbers have dropped from peak years in the mid-1990s, when attendance hit about 15,000, said Warren Kininmonth, the event’s chairman.

“This economy is affecting everyone,” said Kininmonth, who said he was counting on numbers to rebound from 8,000 last year. “It’s everywhere.”

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Note: This is the last of a 2-part series on RV space availability for Winter Texans

Part 1: RV Space Still Available for Winter Texans

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