Rockport Beach Park, one of the warm places snowbirds flock to during the winter. Photo by Michael Amador

Seasonal migration is underway, and it’s not just cranes and warblers making their way to Texas. Relatively mild winters make the state a popular destination for people—many from as far away as Canada—in search of warmer climes.

Prior to the emergence of COVID-19, the state welcomed hordes of Winter Texans every year—more than 100,000 in the Rio Grande Valley alone. The valley is known as a hotspot for birding, and snowbirds also like to roost there, giving an approximately $700 million boost to the area’s economy.

“The warm weather, cost of living, proximity to Mexico, and friendliness of our people are what drive people to South Texas,” says Kristi Collier, founder of Welcome Home RGV, which caters to the Winter Texan crowd.

With land borders to Mexico and Canada now open to vaccinated non-essential travelers, many snowbirds can now visit Mexico for tourist activities like shopping and dining.

During the pandemic, many of the valley’s resorts—about 300 in all—saw a 25 to 50% drop in occupancy. This season, those numbers are finally starting to rebound with the loosening of travel restrictions and the return of seasonal visitors.

In the coastal town of Rockport, the population nearly doubles in the winter with as many as 8,000 out-of-state travelers flocking to more than 50 RV parks in the area. Debra Kost, general manager of Circle W RV Ranch, attests, “I have more Winter Texans than I can shake a stick at. They come here because it’s paradise—and they don’t have to shovel snow.” They also contribute about $3 million to the local economy each year. Many of them, like retirees Mimi and Craig Jones of Fort Collins, Colorado, are repeat visitors. They have wintered in Rockport for the past six years.

“We just love it here,” Mimi says. “You don’t have to worry about the weather. And there’s fishing and breweries and amazing restaurants, like Moondog Seaside Eatery, which is right on the beach. We also like to go to Padre Island National Seashore and look for seashells.”

As many as 1,500 Winter Texans descend upon Fort Clark Springs, a 2,700-acre gated resort next to Brackettville. During the colder months, they make up about a third of the resort’s population. Minnesota residents Vickie Lee and her partner, Ron Fleming, are among those who make the trek there each winter. Fleming purchased a lot at the fort on a whim in 2015, after having spent five days there. A casita came the following year, and the couple keeps a camper for guests on the property.

They were both taken by the uniqueness of the spot. “A creek runs through it from the big spring, which has attracted people for centuries,” Lee says. “The swimming pool is 100 by 300 feet—the third-largest spring-fed pool in Texas. There are 21 miles of trails, and it’s on the flyway, so you see many different species of birds.”

Perhaps the most unique element is the fort itself, which was built in 1852. “We have a historical district that has 80 buildings on the national register of historic places,” Lee says. “The sense of history is everywhere.”

The Hill Country also attracts its fair share of snowbirds. Brian Dreeszen and his wife, Reannon, have been migrating down from Colorado since about 2013 to stay at the Buckhorn Lake Resort in Kerrville.

“The Hill Country has a totally different feel that we’ve fallen in love with over the years,” says Dreeszen. “There’s always a small town to go check out and spend time in, like Bandera, Harper, and Fredericksburg.” During the pandemic, he took note of missing members of the community: “Canadians usually make up about 10 to 15% of the park, and they didn’t get to come down the past two years with the border being closed. Other people decided not to venture out because of COVID. It will be great to see them all again.”

Dreeszen says that the deep friendships they have made at the park are what have drawn them back time and again. However, 2021 was their last year as Winter Texans. They finally sold off their property in Colorado and can now call themselves “converted Texans.”

 

The September 2022 cover of Texas Highways: Visual Wonders


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