(Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of stories about “snowbirds” in the Valley of the Sun).
The demographic affectionately known as “snowbirds” remains an established population in the East Valley’s winter season.
In other news, they might be staying for the summer.
A local survey by the East Valley Tribune suggests that the number of Arizona winter visitors is not decreasing and that more of them are becoming yearlong Arizona residents.
RV parks offer some of the most relevant statistics on snowbirds. Due to the cost of owning real estate, winter visitors often settle for bringing mobile homes into the warmer climates. Some RV parks have responded by branding themselves as retirement communities.
Phoenix Metro RV Park caters exclusively to an over-55 age range. Jan Venard, the community’s assistant manager, noted that the business has been at its peak during recent snowbird seasons.
“We have been absolutely full during the winter seasons, so I can’t imagine there being more in previous winters,” Venard said.
Many of the visitors are farmers with very little else to do during the winter, Venard said. She added, “almost everybody that can leave” departs for the summer.
Of the 310 available units at Phoenix Metro RV, approximately 100 are filled during the summer.
Venard, who has been at the park for three years, hasn’t noticed significant changes in her tenure.
Diane Rossell has managed the Tempe Travel Trailer Villa long enough to see the changes at the macro level.
She also agreed winter business has boomed in the past four years. The number of rented winter units increased 10 to 15 percent from 2010, Rossell said.
The most significant change since pre-2010, however, is the increase in summer residents at the Tempe mobile home community.
“Usually we’ve had 60 out of 160 lots vacant during the summer,” Rossell said, “but in the past four years, only 30 lots have been vacant.”
Rossell said most of those summer residents are “repeats” from the winter season, out-of-state visitors that include Californians, Michiganders, South Dakotans and Canadians.
Instead of maintaining their original home base, many of them have elected to reside permanently in the RV park.
The chief reason, Rossell said, is economic: “This is just a cheaper way for them to live. The mindset back in the day was ‘trailer trash,’ but it isn’t that way any more. These are hard-working people.”
Contempo Tempe, another RV park, also said fewer winter residents are leaving Arizona during the summer: “We don’t have more than 15 percent returning (from Arizona). I would say it was about 25 percent in the past.”
Supplementing information from mobile home communities, senior activity centers offer a softer angle on snowbird trends.
The Ahwatukee Recreation Center gives retirees the opportunity to socialize and learn new hobbies. Its affiliation with the Ahwatukee Board of Management makes its membership steady, but it offers a social membership for non-HOA members.
The recreational center noted that while it has less participation during the summer, the discrepancy is “not as big as it used to be.” The winter membership had not experienced a change.
The findings of the Ahwatukee Recreational Center would seem to corroborate the observations of local RV parks.
The evidence indicates the snowbirds haven’t diminished at all in Phoenix. If anything, out-of-state visitors have increased their presence.
The only change is that many of them are settling down on a permanent vacation.
Whether or not that makes them “staybirds” may be a matter of your semantics.
• James Anderson is a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is interning this semester for the AFN.