Pagosa Springs – Southern Colorado is Going Gray
From Trinidad on the east to Durango on the west, aging baby boomers are building or buying vacation homes. Sometimes, they relocate to Colorado for months at a time. They turn their second homes into retirement homes, starting part-time careers in their new hometowns or managing businesses long distance. “We’d been looking for a place to relocate for two or three years,” said Pat Black, 47, a recent refugee from Santa Rosa, Calif. “I’m just so glad to be out of California. It’s dog-eat-dog,” said her husband, Randy Black, 53. The sale of a computer-maintenance business bankrolled their move this year to a lakeside home here. Pat Black wants to make a new career as a water-colorist. Randy Black hopes to turn his woodworking skills into custom orders. “We’re still just learning to relax,” he said. “The adjustment is learning how to slow down,” she said. “Everything is on Pagosa time.”
Archuleta County in south-central Colorado, which ranks 25th among the state’s 64 counties for residents 55 and older, illustrates the trend. Newcomers seek out small, tranquil towns like Pagosa Springs, the Archuleta County seat, to while away a decade or two beginning in their 50s. The towns typically offer mountain vistas, a benign climate and living costs below those in Front Range cities and the state’s high-gloss ski resorts. After age 70, especially if health problems flare because of the altitude, the newcomers often return to the family circle in California, Texas, Arizona, Florida or other home state that’s fueling the Colorado dream. “These new people dominating the landscape are not really residents,” said state demographer Jim Westkott. “We often use the term pre-retirees. Since the mid-’70s, the growth in Colorado has been largely because of working people. These newcomers are on the cusp: first, second-home ownership and then retirement,” he said.
Compared with other states, Colorado remains a much-younger-than-average state, with 17.6 percent of the population 55 and older, compared with 21.6 of the national population, based on the 2000 census. According to the state Department of Local Affairs, Colorado ranks 47th among the 50 states in population 55 and older, with the first baby boomers turning 65 in 2010.For the second time in four summers, Ross and Linda Brown, both 57, drove west from Camden, Ohio, to vacation at Pagosa Springs. “We love the area. Everyone is so friendly, and it’s so clean. We love the low humidity,” they said, finishing each others sentences as couples sometimes do after years of marriage. “The No. 1 drawback to moving here is that the grandchildren are back in Ohio,” Ross Brown said. “I don’t want to move to Florida,” his wife said. “Too many old people down there, and it’s too hot.”
The Browns vacation at Fairfield Pagosa, a time-share development with almost 500 condominiums, and more on the drawing board, that has been attracting vacationers to the community for 20 years. Predecessor companies have been in operation for more than 35 years in the community. “A lot of people don’t understand how many people we bring in during any given week,” said Lyn Carreras, the development’s vice president of sales. About 4,000 families annually spend a week at Fairfield Pagosa, spending an average of more than $1,200 during their stay, Carreras said. The impact also can be stated this way: The Archuleta County population is 10,000, but an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 visitors also are in the county each week at the peak of the summer vacation, said Sally Hameister, executive director of the Pagosa Springs Area Chamber of Commerce. Population of the county seat itself is about 2,000. The effect is that longtime families in Pagosa Springs, traditionally a logging and ranching town with a strong Hispanic heritage, have been overwhelmed by the influx of middle- and upper-middle-class Anglos, reliably Republican, their SUVs aimed toward recreation and retirement.