Susan Shoemaker leads a tai chi class at the Scott Center, which is attached to the Selbe Apartments in Steamboat Springs. The class included, from left, Jeanne Kempers, Betty Leipold, Pat King and Bill McCalla. According to 2010 census data, the percentage of baby boomers in Routt County has increased nearly 51 percent since 2000.

Photo by John F. Russell

Susan Shoemaker leads a tai chi class at the Scott Center, which is attached to the Selbe Apartments in Steamboat Springs. The class included, from left, Jeanne Kempers, Betty Leipold, Pat King and Bill McCalla. According to 2010 census data, the percentage of baby boomers in Routt County has increased nearly 51 percent since 2000.

Routt County’s older population increasing

Baby boomers and seniors growing segment of community

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— Like many, Frank Dolman was attracted to Steamboat Springs for the winters. And like most, the 67-year-old stayed for the summers.

Dolman, a member of the local senior social club Over the Hill Gang, is among a growing group of baby boomers and seniors who are leaving the hustle and bustle of big-city life behind for a chance at Western happiness.

“I chose it for skiing,” he said. “After the mountain closes, what do you do? You run downtown and buy a mountain bike and hiking shoes.”

According to 2010 census data, the percentage of baby boomers, people 45 to 64 years old, in Routt County has increased nearly 51 percent since 2000. Add the population of residents 65 and older, and the increase since 2000 jumps to almost 58 percent.

The county’s total population increase during the past decade was 19.4 percent.

Baby boomers now account for 32.5 percent of the county’s 23,509 residents, the 18th highest percentage among Colorado’s 64 counties. The addition of more than 1,900 residents 65 and older brings that portion of the county’s population to more than 40 percent.

Routt County Council on Aging Director Laura Schmidt said local senior service providers need to continue collaborating to meet the needs of the growing segment of the population.

“And some of those needs will be new needs, probably, because these seniors are younger and in a different place in life than a lot of seniors we’re currently serving,” she said. “So I think senior service providers definitely have some challenges ahead of us, but I think we have a strong network in Routt County, and we can pull together to do what we need to do to meet those needs.”

Routt County population by the numbers

Serving the population

The Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association’s Aging Well program aims to identify and meet the needs of the aging population in the county. Donna Hackley, the VNA’s director of wellness and aging services, said it provides fitness, prevention and education programs for local seniors.

The Council on Aging also provides activities and programs for seniors, in addition to meals and transportation.

Hackley said participation in Aging Well programs is increasing.

In the program’s five years, the number of classes has increased by 150, and the number of participants has jumped 180 percent, Hackley said. She said Aging Well has served 1,500 people during that time, including about 850 people last year.

Hackley said opportunities to keep people healthy, safe and independent as long as they choose to live in the Yampa Valley have been created because local communities have demonstrated that they value older adults.

“We up here in Routt County have identified that we need healthy, independent people in our community,” she said. “We need to support healthy initiatives so people can continue to be engaged here. We think that’s really important for the strength of our community.”

About 60 percent of Aging Well participants are 65 and older, Hackley said. She said the program serves 28 percent of the county’s population in that age group.

Meeting needs

The census data indicate that baby boomers continue to move to the county and also are staying. A new facility intends to help continue to keep them local.

Denver-based Pearl Senior Living is developing a 144-room facility off Walton Creek Road. It will include skilled nursing, memory care, assisted living and independent living units. Colorado Seniors Residences, a private nonprofit corporation, will own the $38 million facility.

Yampa Valley Medical Center CEO Karl Gills, a Colorado Senior Residences board member, said members of the community, and not just the older population, identified the need for the facility. He said younger residents who want to move their parents to Steamboat also expressed interest.

“Certainly the feedback we’ve gotten from the focus groups and in open presentations and other groups have validated that there’s a need in this community for this type of facility,” he said.

While the Council on Aging and Aging Well provide programs and activities for older seniors, the Over the Hill Gang serves people 50 and older. A couple of its 420 members, however, are younger than 50, Dolman said.

Promoting active lifestyles

Dolman said there were a number of reasons for baby boomers and seniors to relocate to the Yampa Valley, in addition to skiing and summer activities such as hiking, biking, fishing and camping — many of which are organized regularly through Over the Hill Gang.

He cited the calm lifestyle with little traffic and congestion, cultural offerings, social activities, volunteer opportunities and a family-friendly atmosphere.

“There’s so much to do,” he said.

Dolman added that many of those attributes contribute to a healthier lifestyle. That, of course, could lead to another increase in senior numbers by the next census.

Schmidt, of the Council on Aging, said seniors are an important segment of the community.

“They play an integral role in our community,” she said. “They can share with us the past and provide guidance for the future. We need to value them. I think a lot of times, Americans value youth and forget how valuable senior citizens are to our community.”

— To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

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