Sun and fun lure snowbirds back

Rick Bley and Lynn Yetman, of the Village De La Vista, dance to Rocky and the Rollers.

The first thing Kristina Hanges does when she returns to The Villages is jump back into her favorite activities with friends. From pickleball to water volleyball to line dancing, the Village of La Belle resident takes in as much as she can after a summer away in New Hampshire. “I love the reconnecting, and I love the fact that we are all so engaged when we’re (in The Villages),” she said. “We’re not engaged as much up there.” Hanges is just one of many snowbirds who head south to The Villages when the season changes at home. But the weather isn’t The Villages’ only draw. The Villages packs a lot into more than 70 square miles, including 693 holes of golf at more than 50 golf courses; nightly entertainment at three town squares; a variety of shows at The Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center and The Studio Theatre Tierra del Sol and more than 3,000 resident lifestyle clubs that run the gamut of interests.

Because of these amenities, thousands of part-time residents begin trickling into the community each October.

Snowbirds in The Villages

It’s tough to give an accurate number of snowbirds in the state and in The Villages because the U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t track population data in regard to seasonal residents.

The Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida also doesn’t have information on the number of seasonal residents who travel to the entire state, but it does have estimates for the 16 counties that are part of the Southwest Florida Water Management District — Sumter, Lake and Marion counties included.

In February, BEBR estimated Sumter County had about 14,000 seasonal residents, but that number is expected to grow to about 24,000 by 2045, said Rich Doty, a research demographer with  the agency.. Lake had an estimated 22,000 snowbirds, while Marion’s seasonal resident population was about 18,000.

At the time, he estimated about 12,000 snowbirds lived in The Villages.

“These numbers are for the current development boundaries, so if those expand, the numbers will likely increase as well,” he said.

Abundance of Activities

Glenn Perry enjoys going home to Idaho during the summer, but he’s always ready when it’s time to return to The Villages.

He said he feels a pull toward the many clubs and activities he’s involved with in the community.

When he’s in Idaho, the Village of Bridgeport at Laurel Valley resident is anxious to get back to the Humanists club, the Philosophy club, the Science Topics club and the Banjolele Strings Music club.

“I was not able to find any groups within 30 miles of our home (in Idaho) that are like the ones in The Villages, where you can drop in and play the old songs like they do at the Banjolele String Music Club,” Perry said.

Perry enjoys attending lectures at home when he can find them, but in The Villages, lectures are put on regularly, such as at weekly Philosophy group meetings.

“The Villages provides an experience that is hard to find on a regular basis elsewhere,” he said.

Cardio drumming is one of the more popular group activities that many residents say they miss when they’re not in The Villages, said class leader Cindy Duncan.

To accommodate the influx of seasonal residents looking to get involved, she said another class is being added this year.

“Everyone keeps begging me to put it on YouTube or on DVD because when they go back home, they can’t find it,” the Village of Glenbrook resident said. “A lot of them tell me that they don’t have it (back home).”

Like Nowhere Else

The variety of activities also provides an easy segue to friendships and socialization.

In addition to the sports she enjoys playing, Hanges also is part of the Dress Up Luncheon club, a group of women who don their finest attire and meet for lunch. The aspect of the club she appreciates most is the camaraderie.

That’s something Pam Henry, recreation manager of resident lifestyles, parks and public relations with The Villages Recreation and Parks Department, hears a lot.

She points to pétanque, kubb, beach tennis and various card games as chances to meet people and socialize.

“There are a number of unique opportunities here in The Villages that aren’t found elsewhere,” Henry said.

Mike and Gloria Toner rent a home in the Village of Hemingway from January through March.

Besides all of the friends they’ve made in the community, one of the things they enjoy most is the  nightly entertainment at the squares.

“I miss a lot of the shows at the squares (when we’re not here),” Mike said. “I miss walking around. It’s not easy to walk around (at home) in the winter.”

Mike golfs most days of the week when he’s in The Villages, while Gloria enjoys biking and is a member of a quilting club.

In addition to friends and activities, the Toners said the community’s connectivity is also a treat. Mike said they often enjoy exploring on the many multimodal paths.

“We love getting into the cart and just going to different places in The Villages,” he said. “It’s easy to do.”

Hanges said she often tells her friends in New Hampshire about the uniqueness of The Villages and explains how there’s something for everyone to enjoy. She said she tells them there’s only one place like it in the world. 

“(The Villages) has lovely activities that you just don’t find anywhere else,” she said. “There’s everything here for you to do.”

Staff Writer Julie Butterfield can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5254, or julie.butterfield@thevillagesmedia.com.