Friday, December 28, 2007

Herds of Boomers choosing Wyoming

I am pleased to report that my nefarious plan is working. When I moved to Cheyenne in 1991 to work at the Wyoming Arts Council, I pledged to help transform the state into an arts mecca. This, in turn, would cause my fellow Baby Boomers to abandon their Yuppie ways and come to Wyoming, the Rocky Mountain Nirvana. As Horace Greeley might have said in 2007: "Go West, aging Baby Boomers -- and don't forget your medication for restless leg syndrome and erectile dysfunction."

Today's AP story on says that migrating herds of Baby Boomers are heading this way in ever-increasing numbers:

Demographers say thousands of people...are heading to the Rocky Mountain West in their later years. Forget the warmth of Florida and Arizona. Baby boomers, in particular, are gravitating toward the peaks and sagebrush basins of Wyoming and Montana, promising to turn these states from relatively young into two of the nation's oldest.

They're drawn by low crime, fresh air, little traffic and abundant outdoor activities, said Larry Swanson, an economist and director of the Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Missoula, Mont.

Although people of all ages like those things, older people tend to be flexible enough in their careers, families and finances to finally kick up their boots on a porch rail, he said. "If you're 25, you say, `I'd like to live here, but maybe someday in the future.' But if you're 45 or 55, the future is now."

The populations of Montana and Wyoming are not very old. In 2000, Montana ranked 18th and Wyoming 43rd for the relative size of their 65-and-over populations. But by 2030, the Census Bureau predicts Montana will rank fifth and Wyoming third in the nation for their over-65 populations.

The two states are not seeking out older people; they are being discovered.

The AP story by Mead Gruver cites some examples of people who’ve taken the plunge and moved to Wyoming. John Kerr, 69, retired from Boston's PBS station and became a seasonal Yellowstone ranger. Laurie Lyman, 55, quite her teaching job in San Diego and she and her husband are joining their friends in "snapping up property around Yellowstone." Ms. Lyman said she visited Yellowstone a few years ago and fell in love with its wolves. She plans to live close to them. I advise that she keep a close eye on her Yorkie, as gray wolves consider them a delicacy.

It’s easy to understand why Boomers with means are moving to the Yellowstone area. The scenery is gorgeous, crime rates are low, and there are lots of outdoor activities. The article does not mention that Wyoming has no income tax, which could be part of the draw. It also doesn’t mention that Teton County property tends to appreciate because there is only so much open space to build on. So, a pretty solid investment, even in this era of mortgage scandals and rampant foreclosures. And there are some celebs to ogle in Jackson Hole. The Dick Cheney Air Force drops out of the sky with alarming frequency. His gated community is lousy with CEOs, both indicted and unindicted. Harrison Ford, once a full-time resident, is occasionally spotted buzzing bewildered tourists with his helicopter. The cry goes out: "Indiana Jones! Run for it!"

Jackson is Wyoming’s cosmopolitan outpost. There is a plaque downtown that celebrates the first latte served in Wyoming. In some of the quaint shops downtown, you can buy clothing items that cost more than your "Greatest Generation" parents paid for their first house. Jackson features all of the state's great restaurants.

Jackson Hole's biggest draw? The arts. It features the Grand Teton Music Festival in Teton Village. Scores of arts galleries. And best of all -- the new Center for the Arts in the middle of Jackson. It houses the state's only full-time dance company in Dancer's Workshop, two theatre companies, the Jackson Hole Writers Conference, two film festivals, and scores of others. The Center houses classrooms, a dance rehearsal studio, a state-of-the art theatre, and a huge pottery studio with kilns. This facility gives the rest of us something to shoot for.

But what about the rest of the state? Does art exist in Casper and Green River and Cheyenne? And will Boomers want to dwell in these windswept outposts?

Yes, I'm happy to report. And so are AP and CNN. The reporter located a couple that relocated to my town of Cheyenne:

Working was what Lee and Beth Dix had in mind in 1999 when they began thinking about leaving Washington, D.C., where he was a systems analyst for IBM Corp. and she was a corporate planner for Fairchild Corp.

Lee Dix, 62, said the couple researched dozens of communities in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, then flew to Denver and started driving. The couple ended up in Cheyenne, the first overnight stop on their trip.

Lee Dix said the couple did not even consider Florida or Arizona after sweltering in Washington. "Except for the wind here, this is a pretty ideal place for us," he said.

This is an encouraging development. I've lived in the Washington, D.C., area and I'll take Wyoming's wind to the Beltway's swelter and bombast any day. But approaching Cheyenne from the south as the Dixes did can be a daunting experience. At the border, motorists must negotiate a scary line-up of giant brightly-lit billboards (they can be seen from space) and then a series of big-box fireworks' outlets ("More bang for the buck!"). Roaming herds of buffalo and pronghorn antelope lurk in the tall grass, waiting to pounce on wayward tourists. Beware of the roving bands of gay married couples trying to sneak their illicit lifestyles into The Equality State! Republican legislators warned us last session about this, said we needed to change our lax marriage laws to stem this rising tide. And now look!

The constant west wind can send cow-sized tumbleweeds barreling across I-25. Last fall, a particularly large t-weed swallowed a Toyota Prius and sent it tumbling off to Nebraska. The occupants, a trio of consultants from Denver, were never heard from again. The City of Cheyenne's gateway is notable for its truck stops, car dealerships, and tumbledown motels. Mile-long freight trains rumble along the tracks. Tourists crashing at the motels stay awake all night just so they can hear that lonesome whistle blow.

Still, it's a town where the arts are increasing in quantity and quality. And we're anxious to welcome other adventurous Boomers. We hope you're not here just for the tax breaks or the housing prices. Bargain hunters or part-time residents make bad neighbors. They also tend to be Republicans -- we don't need any more of those. We hope you are good citizens who contribute to the town's cultural vitality. We have a great symphony and theatre company. We have an active arts scene. Our new library is top-notch. This is a community full of readers, people curious about the world. We come out in force for events sponsored by the Arts Council and the Wyoming Humanities Council. The State Museum has a great lecture series focusing on Wyoming history.

Welcome Boomers! We've been setting the table for years, awaiting your arrival for the feast that is Wyoming. Hope you remembered those little purple pills.

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