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Snowbirds Ready for Annual Trek Down South

Milt and Kay Olson spend every Christmas in north central Wisconsin with their children and grandchildren, enjoying a meal together, sharing stories of Christmases past and exchanging gifts, according to a report in the Wassau Daily Herald. Then they take down the Christmas tree, load up the fifth-wheel trailer and head south to escape the below-zero temperatures and snow.

The Olsons, who live in the town of Weston, are some of the more than one million “snowbirds” in the U.S. and Canada who flee winters in colder climes for Florida, Arizona, Gulf Shores, Ala., and other refuges. Snowbirds flee the frozen north to live in retirement communities, RV parks and condominiums where they walk the beaches, play golf and participate in other social activities while Wisconsin residents count the days until summer.

The Olsons stay in Wisconsin longer than most snowbirds, who typically are getting ready to hit the road right about now — as leaves turn and temperatures drop near freezing at night. The recession, high gasoline prices and a struggling housing market haven’t slowed the migration.

Milt and Kay Olson, for example, retired in the early 2000s from jobs at Northcentral Technical College. They decided it was time to go someplace warm, but they weren’t content on picking just one place. They bought a fifth-wheel trailer and a pickup and alternate among Arizona, Texas and Florida, staying at RV parks for three months and seeing sights throughout the area.

“In the grand scheme of things, the price of fuel is the biggest factor,” Milt Olson, 65, said. “It adds a couple hundred dollars, but you don’t decide to stay home for that.”

Tracking the number of snowbirds is difficult because studies are inconsistent and dated. A University of Arizona State study found that more than 300,000 winter residents were living in Arizona at the height of the 2002-03 winter season. A University of Florida study showed that 818,000 people spent the winter of 2005 in that state.

Stefan Rayer, a researcher for the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at UF who conducted the 2005 study, said the economic downturn and high unemployment likely have caused that number to drop slightly in recent years.

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