Rio Grande Valley Braces for Big Season

October 8, 2012 by · Comments Off on Rio Grande Valley Braces for Big Season 

The counties in red at the southern tip of Texas constitute the prime vacation areas in the Rio Grande Valley. Map courtesy of Wikipedia.

Mobile home and RV park operators in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas say all indications point to a successful year for Winter Texan visitors.

At South Padre Island, there’s been a 10 percent increase in the number of inquiries from prospective Winter Texans, Lacey Ekberg, the Convention & Visitors Bureau director, told The Monitor, McAllen. The CVB has received 5,000 to 6,000 calls per month since July, with most of those calls coming from the Midwest and northern states, including Illinois, Ohio and Minnesota.

“Given the number of inquiries, we do not expect less Winter Texan visitors than the previous year,” Ekberg said.

Some parks are able to get a hint of the coming season’s success based on previous year park residents who take advantage of “early bird” discounts, or make their reservations far in advance of their return.

Fun N Sun RV Resort in San Benito, for example, offers a rate of $75 for the month of October, park spokeswoman Janie Paz said.

Paradise Park RV Resort, in Harlingen last year offered a 5 percent “Early Bird Special” discount for some visitors who paid by June for the next winter. Other parks’ discount offers vary from year to year.

Winter Texans are big business in the Valley, injecting millions of dollars into the local economy every year. For the 2011-2012 season, Winter Texans had a $751 million direct economic impact on the Valley economy, according to statistics compiled by the Valley Markets and Tourism Research Center at the University of Texas-Pan American.

Winter Texans usually begin showing up in the Valley around Oct. 1, said Penny Simpson, a UTPA professor of marketing and associate dean of the College of Business Administration and director of the Valley Markets and Tourism Research Center.

“It’s just a trickle in October,” she said of the annual migration of retirees. “When they come is tied to the weather. The health of the retirees also determines whether they will return to the Valley each year.”

Visits by retirees from northern states and Canada dropped sharply after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, but eventually returned to nearly the levels of earlier years. A biannual survey by UTPA this January showed some drop in numbers of Winter Texans in a January count of seasonal visitors from two years ago.

Simpson said 133,400 Winter Texans came to the Valley last winter compared with 144,000 two years earlier.

Worries about terrorism incidents along the border play into the decision to return to the Valley each year, she said.

Paradise Park Mobile Home Park in Harlingen has 255 mobile home sites and 295 recreational vehicle sites, office manager Christine Henderson said.

Some Winter Texans who have visited the Valley for several winters will stay longer and some make the Valley their home base and visit their northern homes during warmer months, she said.

“We have quite a few people that are annual but stay year-round. But then we have those that are annuals but they are only here for X amount of months and then they go back home,” she said.

While some retirees claim they are no longer Winter Texans because they live in the Valley most of the year, they still go back home to visit family during the hottest months of summer, she said.

“They’re all Winter Texans to me,” she said, laughing.

In recent years, with soaring fuel prices, more retirees are choosing to leave their RVs in the Valley, Henderson said. Paradise Park has a designated storage area for RVs that are not in use.

At Sunshine RV Park in Harlingen, workers have been replacing sod and making other repairs and preparations for Winter Texans who will soon arrive.

Manager Lon Huff said Winter Texans are attracted to the Valley by the many species of birds and proudly showed a small lake at his park where black-bellied whistling ducks, swans and roseate spoonbills congregated.

Huff said his park’s numbers don’t support UTPA’s statistics of declining numbers of Winter Texans.

“The years of 2010 and 2011 for us were extremely good years,” he said.

Violence in Mexico and high gas prices have not greatly affected the numbers of people wintering at Sunshine RV Park, Huff said.

Baby boomers are an increasing presence in the Winter Texan community, Huff said, adding that there’s a “pretty big” contingent of 55-year-old Canadians at his park.

The number of retirees who stay for six months each winter has been increasing each year he has worked at Sunshine RV Park, Huff said. Some owners of park models and mobile homes have added patios, storage buildings and other facilities, as evidence of their longer visits.


ELS Resort Drops Flag Display After Remodeling

April 18, 2012 by · 1 Comment 

The veterans who live at Paradise RV Resort in Peoria, Ariz., remember the dramatic battles they fought against the Japanese during World War II.

But a much smaller fight they have waged for the past two years is meaningful in its own way, they say. They want the management at the RV park at 10950 W. Union Hills Drive, near the Sun City-Peoria line, to rehang military flags that were removed during a renovation of the community’s main hall, the Arizona Republic reported.

The manager said that the flags violate company rules. That explanation is not sitting well with the veterans.

Lindy Lindahl, a 74-year-old Air Force veteran, helped gather 325 petition signatures this spring. The petition asks that managers restore “these symbols of respect and pride” to the place they have hung for as long as any of them can remember.

“There is a large veteran community here,” Lindahl said. “There are 90-year-old veterans here. Why should they have to fight anymore?”

The dispute began in 2010, when Paradise RV Resort owner Equity LifeStyle Properties (ELS) overhauled the main kitchen and repainted the community ballroom.

The cavernous space is in the center of the community, which has about 950 mobile homes and RV spaces off of Union Hills Drive in Peoria.

The ballroom has a stage and a disco ball. Residents gather there for concerts, church, dinners and dances.

Many of the residents have lived or spent winters in the 30-year-old Paradise RV Resort for close to 20 years and have grown into a tight-knit community.

Veterans especially have bonded and for several years have had a veterans club. The group has organized spaghetti dinners to raise money for military families, events that have drawn hundreds of residents. In 2010 — the year the kitchen was remodeled — the veterans club couldn’t cook, so it held a tribute to the troops, complete with an honor guard from a high school junior ROTC.

This year, with the lingering disappointment over the flag dispute, the group did not stage an event.

Lindahl, wearing an “Old Guys Rule” T-shirt this week, showed where the six service flags — representing the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and POW/MIA — used to hang over the ballroom’s south entrance.

Residents also used to admire a series of paintings that made up a mural of all of the activities at Paradise, such as ballroom and square dancing, computers, woodworking and glass art.

But when the ballroom reopened for meals, neither the flags nor the paintings were rehung in their usual spaces.

Residents finally found the flags in the closet of the activities center and located a few of the mural paintings. The paintings now hang in the community wood shop, and Lindahl has the flags in his house.

The blank ballroom walls upset Norris Leamer, an 87-year-old who has spent winters at Paradise for 18 years and now lives there most of the year. The retired Air Force pilot flew B-29s over Japan from Guam in the last years of the war.

“Everybody in the park admired those flags,” Leamer said. “They stood for something.”

In January, manager David Hawley sent Lindahl a one-line letter saying that the company’s “design policy statements oppose future consideration or use of wall decor in Paradise RV activity centers.”

Later, in March, the residents association decided to circulate the petition, and Lindahl presented it to Hawley. Seven representatives from local American Legion posts came along for support. Another batch was sent to corporate headquarters.

Lindahl has not had any response from the corporate office in Chicago.

Hawley said Monday that he did not want to comment further.

Waiting for action

Flag disputes percolate occasionally in the Valley, but they usually involve a homeowner and a homeowners association. In 2006, the Arizona Legislature passed a law that requires associations to permit homeowners to fly flags.

But Paradise residents — who own their mobile homes but rent the land the homes sit on — do not own the ballroom. That means that they must try to coax Equity LifeStyles to see their view.

“It’s just business to them,” said resident Harry McGuire, a 90-year-old World War II veteran. “I would like somebody to look me right in the eye and tell me the reason why we can’t have those flags up.”