Posts Tagged ‘Winter Texans’

Meandering past rows of Pinnacles, Hitchhikers, Open Roads and Bounders, Bill Hoffart is home at Gateway to the Gulf RV Park.

For the past three weeks, the 69-year-old explorer and his wife, Carolyn, who left their home in the Virgin Islands to “stretch out,” have called themselves Winter Texans by way of Victoria.

“There’s no sign of recession or depression,” Hoffart said. “We just feel great being here.”

But as the temperatures warm up, Hoffart feels the itch to drive. He and his wife plan to leave Tuesday morning for Big Bend National Park.

“We’re going to head west, then follow spring north,” Hoffart said.

Ron and Delly Wentz, owners of Gateway to the Gulf RV Park, located on U.S. Highway 59 North, said their busy months are November, January and March.

Typically, couples are packing up and heading back home in time for tax season by the first of April, Ron Wentz, 56, said. Although an early spring in the midwest drew some Winter Texans home sooner, he said most will stay through till the end.

“There are some people who want to get home as soon as possible, for others, it’s their lifestyle and they want to experience it,” he said.

Delly Wentz, 46, said Victoria’s location makes it a prime base camp site.

It is close enough that Winter Texans can get all the benefits of the valley, or make day trips to Houston, Austin or San Antonio, without getting caught in traffic or trouble, she said.

They are seeing more first-time Winter Texans, mostly baby boomers who recently entered retirement, Ron Wentz said.

“They really thrive on doing – getting out to experience something,” he said. “A couple just re-upped because they realized there was more they wanted to see.”

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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.

Penny Simpson, a professor who researches tourism at the University of Texas-Pan American a summer 2011 survey of 130 Winter Texans hinted numbers could drop about 5 percent this winter.

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

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, Minn., 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.

“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.”

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Campground and RV park operators, hurt by the state’s hot, dry summer, are anticipating a rebound this season because of “winter Texans,” those out-of-state residents who migrate to the warmer parts of the Lone Star State to avoid the coldest weeks back home.

“Many of our affiliates are reporting much higher bookings for the winter season than they experienced last year,” said Brian Schaeffer, executive director and CEO of the Texas Association of Campground Owners.

This summer’s drought hurt many RV parks and campgrounds, particularly those located on lakes or rivers.

“Last summer was the worst summer I’ve had in years due to the drought,” said Doug Shearer, owner of Parkview Riverside RV Resort in Concan, near Uvalde. “But our winter is looking good.”

Shearer said reservations were running 10 to 15 percent ahead of last winter.

Bryan Kastleman, managing partner at Hill Country RV Resort in New Braunfels, said his bookings are up because of more than just winter Texans. He said the surge in the San Antonio economy is creating a need for workers to find temporary places to stay.

“It’s looking really strong,” Kastleman said of the winter bookings.

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