Added: Delaine Brott - Date: 28.11.2021 17:55 - Views: 33870 - Clicks: 4159
He went away to college and didn't look back. But after working in Central Texas for a while, he called home with a confession. Harrison, now 26, is back in Winkler County, drawn by a job in the aptly named community of Notrees. But he is in the minority. The people who remain often drive an hour or more to visit a doctor, buy a pair of jeans or see a movie. So you might wonder why anyone is still there, in this place where natural beauty is defined by dry creek beds and scraggly mesquite, where public transit is a school bus and Starbucks is a punch line.
The stars are just right there. You hear the coyotes howling," says Billy Burt Hopper , sheriff of Loving County, home to 82 people and the least-populated county in the United States. Texas recorded the largest population growth in the nation over the past decade, adding 4.
But 79 of its counties lost people, all but a handful of them west of Interstate Even more would have lost population if not for the decade's phenomenal Latino growth; the of Anglos declined in Texas counties, including much of West Texas and the Panhandle. The shift to the state's cities and suburbs has been happening since at least the s, as people died or moved away from the vast emptiness of the west and the endless stretches of the Panhandle.
For every Marfa, which capitalized on the legacy of artist Donald Judd to reinvent itself as an arts and tourist town, there are a dozen Kermits, Van Horns and Tahokas, barely hanging on as people choose modern life over wide open spaces. Loving County, just south of the New Mexico state line, doesn't have a Walmart or much of anything else, although not everyone thinks that's a bad thing.
If so, Siebrandt may have found his perfect home in Mentone, which is almost 30 miles from the nearest grocery store and boasts 15 people, the Loving County Courthouse, the post office and a gas station that also sells beef jerky, sodas and beer. The cafe closed last year, but at least people no longer have to bring in their own drinking water.
The county's first public water supply system was completed in With just 30 miles of paved road - that would be State Highway - and another 30 of paved-turning-to-potholes county ro, most people are scattered across ranchland reached only by private ro cutting through its square miles of desert, punctuated by several hundred oil and gas wells.
Loving County is, technically, in the midst of a population boom, with a population of 82, up from 67 in He and Hopper later made their own list. Since then, one person died and another moved away. Another or more work in Loving County's oil and gas fields every weekday, coming from Pecos, Kermit and Odessa, 75 miles to the east.
He and his deputies stay busy with oil field thefts, enforcing speeding laws and the occasional arrest, mainly of people stopped for speeding and found to be wanted in another county. There's no jail. Loving County has shared jail facilities with Reeves and Ward counties since , when it became too expensive to bring its own jail into compliance with court rulings. Nor is there a department dispatcher; the phone is forwarded to Hopper or the deputy on call. Her daughter, Shane Seibrandt , is the justice of the peace. But Skeet Jones says the lack of people, and the family ties of those who remain, can make it difficult to fill what few jobs the county offers.
Finding an election judge who isn't related to someone on the ballot is especially tricky. But at least they don't have to find two. Loving County holds only a Democratic primary, even though Hopper says most residents vote Republican in the general election. Population loss isn't unique to West Texas. Rice University demographer Steve Murdock says it's happening all across the plains, from the Dakotas to Texas. A few East Texas counties also lost population over the decade. Agriculture is more mechanized, so it requires fewer workers, says Eduardo Segarra , chairman of the department of agriculture and applied economics at Texas Tech University.
The of agriculture jobs has actually increased, as people leave the farm for cities and work in marketing, transportation, product development and other facets of the industry. But it offers little consolation to counties with few prospects for renewal. We're not going to have a big GM plant.
Carlos Urias , her counterpart in Culberson County, is even more glum. While some West Texas counties have lucrative oil and gas fields, providing both jobs and tax revenues for local governments and schools, Culberson County does not, helping to explain why its population has dropped below 2, people spread across 3, square miles of forbidding landscape.
Van Horn, the county seat, has a grocery store - two if you count the dollar store, which sells food among the miscellany on its shelves - a hospital and several truck stops lining Interstate For everything else, people go to El Paso, miles away.
The distances can be daunting to newcomers, however. The trade-off is a sense of community, with the school as its soul. But even the schools are shrinking. Just students are enrolled in the Culberson County-Allamore school district, almost fewer than seven years ago.
Eighty-nine percent are Latino, and 82 percent qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches, an indicator of poverty. We lose kids. And when we lose kids, we lose funding. With just 46 teachers - the district relies on the Texas Virtual School Network for some advanced classes - Mancha has little wiggle room for the coming state budget cuts. Soaring gas prices have made it more expensive to bus students from across the county, as well as to send them to neighboring districts for athletic and academic competitions. The town now hopes to capture a slice of the tourism market as people move between Marfa, 70 miles to the south, and Guadalupe Mountains National Park, a similar distance to the north.
But Urias sounds melancholy as he considers his hometown's prospects. Marfa's nicer. They preserved their courthouse. Van Horn's center of government is a one-story, s-era courthouse, although the crumbling remains of the jail stand in a nearby park. The school district and hospital are the main employers, and Urias laments decisions made 20 years ago to turn away prison construction.
Nearby Hudspeth County now has a private prison; Fort Stockton, to the south, has a state prison unit. Still, he isn't entirely pessimistic. The county has several talc mines and wind energy projects, in addition to ranching and farming. One company is drilling for natural gas. I have to be. Most Popular. For the district, fewer students means less funding. Calloway, who grew up in Pecos, said she moved to Loving County from Odessa after being divorced.
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