Did Eagle County population really only grow by one between 2017 and 2018? | VailDaily.com

Did Eagle County population really only grow by one between 2017 and 2018?

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates are at odds with the state demography office's numbers

Even with moderate population growth, it can take years to get projects such as Miller Ranch in Edwards, shown here, from the drawing board to reality.
Anthony Thornton | Daily file photo

By the numbers

  • 4,677: Eagle County’s population in 1960, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • 7,498: County population in 1970.
  • 13,320: The 1980 count.
  • 21,928: County population in 1990.
  • 41,659: The 2000 U.S. Census count.
  • 52,197: The 2010 population.
  • 54,993: The 2018 county population estimate.

Source: Colorado State Demography Office. 

EAGLE COUNTY — In the 50 years since 1960, Eagle County’s population grew from fewer than 5,000 people to more than 52,000. That growth slowed, perhaps by a lot, between 2017 and 2018.

According to a U.S. Census Bureau estimate, Eagle County’s population grew by one person in that year. But that doesn’t mean the population was stagnant.

Realtor Onie Bolduc of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Colorado Properties works from Vail to Gypsum. Bolduc said just because the bottom-line number changes, whether a lot or a little, the county’s population is always changing.

“We’re a transient community,” Bolduc said. That isn’t just seasonal employees, either, he added.

Bolduc noted that he’s currently working with a family who’s moving out of the valley to be closer to extended family. Others are moving in to replace those who leave. Other units are being sold, sometimes as second homes, sometimes for vacation units going into the short term rental pool.

That churn is at least partially responsible for the valley’s active real estate market. Bolduc said growing families are looking for bigger homes. Empty-nest parents often look to downsize.

An aging place

And the valley’s population is aging.

Citing data from the Colorado Demographer’s Office, Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry noted that the county’s population of people age 65 and older is expected to grow more than 200% between 2010 and 2030.

Chandler-Henry, a valley native, remembers the early 1970s when the town of Eagle held 800 people. Chandler-Henry wrote in an email that she doubts the accuracy of the Census Bureau’s figures, and prefers the numbers from the state’s demography office.

Those figures estimate the county’s population grew by 687 people from 2017 to 2018.

That’s part of a trend that could see the county’s population of people 64 and younger grow by nearly 30 percent from 2010 to 2030.

Still, that’s a slower pace than the one seen in the 1990s, when the county’s population nearly doubled. 

Chandler-Henry wrote that a slower pace is preferable to the “rampant growth” seen in the 1990s.

“It allows us to keep up with the demand for workforce housing, so that we don’t become a county of only the elderly and the wealthy,” she added.

Still a crunch

Even relatively slow growth isn’t doing much to ease the valley’s housing crunch.

In an email, Eagle County Housing Director Kim Bell Williams wrote that jobs remain plentiful in the area.

“From a housing perspective, we have seen increased numbers on the wait lists we administer, specifically at Lake Creek Village Apartments.”

Those waiting lists can stretch to months, and sometimes years, Bell Williams wrote.

And it can take years to bring more workforce housing to the market, Bell Williams added. In the past 12 years, less than 200 new units have come online in the valley. Since 2016, perhaps 300 new units for residents have entered the pipeline.

Looking at currently approved projects, Bell Williams said the county could see a net increase of 700 deed-restricted units along with 2,895 free-market units.

“It may take several more years to get to completion and occupancy on those units,” Bell Williams wrote.

Beyond housing, Chandler-Henry wrote that a growing population also affects transportation, from air service to roads.

Whatever the growth number is, Chandler-Henry is happy to see more moderate population increases.

Slower growth “provides predictability and breathing room for plan — balancing open and space and density, making sure our water resources are adequate and of high quality, making sure that neighborhoods are healthy places to live, for example.”

While population may have moderated recently, the state demography office expects more people to continue to move to Eagle County.

According to estimates from that office, the county’s population could surpass 60,000 by 2025, and 70,000 by 2035.

By 2050, the state estimates the county’s population could exceed 85,000 by 2050.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com or 970-748-2930.

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