Some snowbirds skip springtime migration

Ruth Saunders, right, and Kenneth Udle, left, of the Village Alhambra, play golf on the first green of the Amberwood executive golf course. Because of restrictions imposed for COVID-19, the couple has decided to stay in The Villages longer than usual this year.

By now, Village Alhambra resident Ruth Saunders normally would be back at her Commack, Long Island, home in New York. But this year has been anything but normal. Instead of following their annual schedule of leaving Florida for New York in late April, Saunders and her partner, Kenneth Udle, have remained in The Villages. And they’re not alone. Saunders and Udle are part of a large population of seasonal residents who are staying in the community longer than usual this year, due in part to the COVID-19 outbreak.  “We’re very comfortable here,” she said. “We’re not ready to go, but at some point we know we have to.”

Typically, seasonal residents begin to head back north after Easter, said Richard Doty, GIS coordinator and research demographer with the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida. But this year, the coronavirus pandemic forced many snowbirds to adjust their plans and remain in the area. BEBR estimates about 56,000 seasonal residents live part of the year in the tri-county area, with about 12,000 of them spending the winter in The Villages.

Saunders said New York’s more strict lockdown regulations affected the couple’s decision to remain in The Villages longer than usual in 2020. They’ve enjoyed the fact that more businesses are opening up in Florida while still remaining safe. And the extended stay has been a welcome one, particularly because of the moderate temperatures, Saunders said.

“With the weather, you can get out,” she said. “After all, they had snow in New York over the weekend, but the weather here (is) in the 70s or 80s.”

While here, Saunders and Udle have been spending much of their time soaking up the sunshine, playing golf safely and discovering new neighborhoods via golf cart. They recently had a picnic lunch at Lake Miona Park, and they’ve also been chasing the sunset to try to capture the best picture.

“The best viewing is (Lake) Sumter,” Saunders said. “We’ve taken so many pictures of the waterfront and everything.”

Althea and Scott Walker are in the same boat, waiting until things calm down in their home state of Maine to drive up in their recreational vehicle.

“We have to drive through New York and Massachusetts, and we have no idea what we’re going to be facing as we go through those states,” Althea said. “It’s just a fear of the unknown at this point.”

The Village of Chatham residents don’t usually spend all six months of their time here, taking occasional trips back home. This year has been different, with a mandatory 14-day quarantine period for travelers entering or returning to the state.

Instead of traveling, the Walkers have been spending some time enjoying the warm weather by taking golf cart rides and, for Scott, golfing two or three times a week.

There are a few things they are not missing, like black fly season, mud season and snow.

“There’s not much incentive to go up to Maine right now,” Althea said.

Julie Petry also normally leaves The Villages around this time of year to go back to Long Island. But this year, her family and friends encouraged her to stay longer since the New York City area was so drastically affected by the coronavirus.

Petry decided to stay in The Villages so she wouldn’t risk being exposed to the coronavirus at a hotel or airport.

Petry lives in the Village of Orange Blossom Gardens, where she’s been renting for the last nine years. She said she’s never stayed this long at once, but she’s enjoying all the activity.

“I’m still staying busy,” she said. “I play samba and socialize safely with friends from Long Island. I also love to walk.”

Petry said she loves the Village of Orange Blossom Gardens because of its proximity to Paradise Park.

“The fresh and sunny weather here is much preferred over the cold and snow they’ve had back up north,” she said.

Staff writer Maddie Cutler can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5386, or Staff writer Liz Coughlin can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5304, or