Sunday, December 16, 2018
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20180315 Sandcastles 111310Climate, friendly people, social activities appeal to Winter Texans

Art connoisseurs have many reasons for liking a masterpiece. For some, it may be the colors, for others the art may “just speak to them.” Yet, for others there may be another reason something undefinable – or maybe for all these reasons.

The same can be said for connoisseurs of winter travel who trek south annually to make the Rio Grande Valley their home – some for three months, some for six months or longer. For them, however, the reasons are clearly defined.

There are many reasons Winter Texans love to call the Rio Grande Valley their winter home. But the reasons that top the list are: the climate, the friendly people, the activities, entertainment and the low cost of living.

It’s the Warm Weather

20180315 GAO Bicycle Tour Herb DSC 0261 SHOWBeing cooped up indoors for 4-6 months of the year because icicles are hanging from the rooftop, which is covered with a foot of snow, is not the way many people want to live. When the main activity for the day is shoveling snow, it can be downright depressing.

Welcome to the Rio Grande Valley, where the average high between December and February runs from 70-74 degrees and the average low during those months are between 49 and 54 degrees, much higher than the highs for the season in most of the Winter Texans' northern homes.

Winter Texans enjoy coming to the Valley to get away from the cold weather. Many seem to take pleasure in calling family and friends back home when they know the weather is bad to tell them it’s a sunny 70 degrees today in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

Wayne Watts, from Twin Lakes RV Park, said he would be back home right now shoveling snow and feeding the horses. Instead, he was outdoors watching his Winter Texan friends playing softball.

20180315 GAO Petanque Herb DSC 0243“The weather here is perfect – you can do a lot in this weather,” he said.” But when you feed the horses you gotta go back out and clean what they ate.”

Virgil Kappes said he heard a person could add 10 years to his or her life by wintering in the Valley, away from the miserable cold weather.

Hundreds of Winter Texans break in the New Year at South Padre Island for the warmest Polar Bear Dip in the nation. While they may be jumping into freezing water in places like Ely, Minn. to celebrate the New Year, here they will run into 60-plus degree water and then sit down and listen to some Jimmy Buffet style music outside enjoying food and friendship.

For Diane Coulter and her husband and friends from Sun Valley Village in Harlingen, 2017 was their first Polar Bear Dip. Not only did they run into the water, but they even made “pinky swear” promises to make the event a tradition as well.

“This was a lot of fun,” said Coulter, from Winnipeg, Canada. “We jumped in and were able to come out and not have our teeth chattering. You can be sitting here at this time of year in your shorts and bare feet.”

The climate is important for other reasons. Jim McDermid of Minnesota said he has heart and vascular disease and in the Valley the weather is good enough that he can walk almost every day and the land is flat enough that he does not have to climb while he walks.

Friendly People

Time and again, Winter Texans list friendliness as big a reason to live here. Not only does that include their neighbors in the park or other parks, but also the people in the community who are happy to have Winter Texans because they appreciate the economic and other benefits they bring to the Valley.

“Really that's why my wife and I keep coming back,” said Larry Boggs, a Branson, Mo., resident during the non-winter months and a Chimney Park resident during the winter. “The best way to say it is that they welcome you with open arms from the moment you get here. We have made so many friends here. We have more friends here than we do back home – that's the truth.”

Winter Texans who have been to Florida explain why they prefer Texas. They don’t feel welcome in Florida; the people there are unfriendly and don’t appreciate them as they are appreciated South Texas. There are “Welcome Home” fiestas as winter guests begin to arrive in the Fall. Most RGV communities host “Winter Texan Appreciation” events at the end of the winter season as well.

20180315 Bullfight 38“We've been to Florida,” said Darlene Neel, of Tinley Park, Ill. She and her husband live at Chimney Park in Mission. When they were looking for a place to move, they checked out both Florida and Arizona – and the decision to come to South Texas was an easy one. “It's not anywhere near as friendly [as Texas].”

Business owners and government officials will talk about relationships that were built, commonly calling the winter visitors more than just part-time visitors.

“We've built relationships with so many of them,” said Jennifer Hart, co-owner with her husband of the popular Riverside Club along the Rio Grande in Mission. “A lot of them have truly become like family to us.”

Texas even coined the endearing name “Winter Texan” for those adopted Texans from up north.

Great Social Life and Activities

Winter Texans are known for having fun. The Valley provides tons of it too.

Peruse through the Parks Calendar in any January or February edition of the Winter Texan Times – see it online at www.wintertexantimes.com By the end of March the season is coming to a close and the park activities have tapered down – but there is still plenty to do.

The list is seemingly never-ending. What's more impressive is that there are more and more activities and social events being added on a regular basis as activity directors and park managers realize that the hobbies of Winter Texans today are different than those of yesterday, so they look to accommodate all – and they've done a great job at it.

Some of the activities gaining popularity include pickleball, remote-control race car competitions (Encore Parks actually have a racing series between three of its parks and expects it to grow), the Canadian game petanque and cycling. There are still large groups of shuffleboard players – some ranked internationally – as well as the ageless favorites like cards, bingo, quilt making, woodcarving, aerobics, yoga and other exercising, and so much more.

20170208 GOLF PHOTOS Brownsville Golf Center 1st Tee Winter TexansGolf, of course, is huge with a long-standing annual tournaments played throughout the Valley, such as the “Life Begins at 40” tournament played at Harlingen Country Club. It's the perfect sport that can be played for many years, especially when the weather is in the 70s. There's also an annual hugely popular event known as the Golden Age Olympics which offers dozens of active and not so active events that seniors – Winter Texans and locals – can compete in.

There's, of course, a smorgasbord of craft shows and craft fairs where people can find all sorts of knick-knacks, souvenirs and uniquely inexpensive items for themselves or as gifts.

And all that is just the tip of the iceberg. (Sorry, had to use a winter-esque reference).

None of that even includes the entertainment – which is broken down into dances, jams and performances to just sit back and enjoy.

Live Entertainment

Providing that live entertainment are many excellent performers who come to the Valley during their “off season” in Branson, Nashville, Las Vegas and other parts of the country to perform their shows in the RV resorts. The cost is typically in the $7 to $8 range while the same show in Florida or Arizona will cost $10-$15 and in Branson – a mini-Nashville if you will – the cost could be $30-$50 or more for the same show. When you go to 30 or more shows or dances per season, those savings add up.

Dancing the Night Away

20180315 Swing Street Big Band Dance MILLER IMG 4521Of course, the Winter Texans aren't kids anymore – but they can certainly handle their own when it comes to dancing. Whether it's line dancing, square dancing, waltzes, cha-chas, jitterbugs or anything else, these visitors know how to make a dance floor come alive.

“That's the reason we're here; we dance every chance we get. Every night if we can,” said

Karen Tripp, who was waltzing with her husband Trevor to the sound of the Swing Street Band. “We absolutely love it. We were dancing before we even met. We'll go square dancing, ballroom dancing, club dancing, social dancing. There's nothing better anywhere.” It's definitely not hard to find a dance – no matter what your swing is.

And the events in the Parks Calendar are activities that are open to out-of-park guests, so you're buffet of things to do is limitless.

Of course, none of that includes any of the activities that are going on outside the parks. South Texas is known for birding and butterflying and South Padre Island and world-class fishing and professional soccer and basketball and....need we go on?

Adding to the social aspect of the Winter Texan lifestyle is the park community of friends and neighbors who participate in many activities together.

It’s Down Right Affordable

It’s a fact: Texas is much more economical than Florida and Arizona.

According to CBS' Moneywatch, Harlingen is the cheapest city to live in and McAllen is the third cheapest in the United States. What's not to like about that?

Winter Texan John Tim says, “People who know they have money go to Florida. People who think they have money go to Arizona. Everybody else goes to Texas because it is the most economical place to live.”

According to an AARP article, Texas was the best state to retire because it had the lowest taxes. Texas has no state income tax. And as for property taxes, homeowners can claim a homestead exemption and also get their taxes frozen if they are age 65 or older.

Those on a very restricted budget, as well as those who just like to save money, can find great bargains at local flea markets, such as Don-Wes Flea Market, the local ropa usada (used clothing store) and other thrift stores that are abundant in the RGV. Craft and yard sales can be found almost every weekend on what seems like every street – if you're not too tied up at the park sales.

There's also Progreso, Mexico, where many Winter Texans still enjoy going for a day of eating, shopping and having a few cold beverages.

Winter Texans also agreed they save a lot of money on heating fuel for their homes by coming to the Valley where the winters are mild.

There are a variety of reasons why people choose to come the Rio Grande Valley. Whether it’s being able to fish or golf year-round or the social life of tight-knit Winter Texan communities in the parks, most folks want to get out and have a good time enjoying their retirement.

And South Texas provides exactly what they're are looking for – and maybe even a good bit more.

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