Seeking quiet: Families hoping for a more laid back lifestyle moved to Decatur in last decade

Seeking quiet: Families hoping for a more laid back lifestyle moved to Decatur in last decade

WELCOME TO WISE - The Hopper family bought property and moved to Decatur from Denton in September. Andy and Amanda Hopper and sons Grant, 10, Ian, 4, and Sam, 8, have enjoyed their new, rural environment. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are…”

Or where you are.

The beauty of the night sky was greatly diminished in Andy and Amanda Hopper’s Denton neighborhood, and when they began looking for “a place in the country,” stargazing was a priority.

“I’m sure the guy thought we were crazy,” Amanda said of asking the property owner if they could visit the 10-acre tract at night.

“We can’t see the stars where we live, and we want to see if we can see the stars,” she told him.

Census 2010The Hoppers moved into their rural Decatur home in September, but they were one of many families who moved to the area during the last decade seeking refuge from the Metroplex and hoping for a quieter lifestyle.

According to 2010 U.S. Census numbers, the Decatur area grew at almost the same pace as Wise County as a whole – 21 percent.

In 2000, the population of Decatur and the surrounding area was 13,377 and in 2010, that number jumped to 16,176.

“I’ve always wanted to live in the country, so it was really about getting established enough to get land and build a house,” Andy said.

He recalled how his father always had projects for him and his brothers when they were boys, and he wanted to do the same for his sons: Grant, 10, Sam, 8 and Ian, 4.

“I wanted the opportunity for them to do some good, honest work,” he said.

The Hoppers had looked for property in Denton County for about two years when a co-worker of Andy’s told them about Decatur.

The couple loaded up and began driving county roads in search of property. They just happened to see the tiniest “for sale” sign on the property they now own.

The family of five went from a plot in suburbia to country acreage.

“I feel like we’re always playing catch-up with country stuff that we don’t know,” said Amanda.

She said when they first learned of an ag exemption for their property, they realized they only had a week to build fence and purchase some cattle. They wanted to plant a garden, but suddenly realized the window to do so was closing.

“We’re having to learn on the fly,” she said. But Amanda said local people have been very helpful as they’ve transitioned.

“You just call someone, and they try to help you,” she said.

The entire family has enjoyed the peacefulness and quiet of their new home, and they say they don’t miss living in the city.

The boys have enjoyed roaming the family’s acreage, and Sam said one of his favorite things about living here is “not being bugged by so many people.”

Grant’s favorite thing about their farm is the peacefulness and what little Ian enjoys most: frogs.

Amanda has documented her family’s transition to country life in a blog “The Funny Farm.” To read more about their adventures, visit

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More people, more potholes

Increased population impacts many facets of life in an area, but it could be argued that one of the biggest impacts in Wise County is to roads.

Precinct 2 County Commissioner Kevin Burns said he looks at growth trends and changes road work priorities based on those trends.

Census 2010“We redo that almost every morning,” he said, “especially this time of year when we’re deciding what roads to seal coat. You decide according to traffic and population on the road. Sometimes there may not be a lot of residents on the road, but the traffic is horrendous.”

He tries to focus on the high-traffic areas in each community and the roads that go between communities. Much of the damage to roads is done by industrial traffic, he said.

His main priorities are to keep roads safe and dust-free.

He also added that sometimes people who move here from an urban area have different expectations about road conditions.

“A lot more people are accustomed to better service than we can afford to offer,” he said. “I get a lot of calls about it. A lot of people want to know when the street lights and hydrants will be here.

“But they’re coming from places with an enormous tax base.”

Precinct 2 encompasses the northwestern portion of Wise County and covers the cities and communities of Alvord, Chico, Crafton, Lake Bridgeport and parts of Bridgeport and Decatur.

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New and modified campuses accomodate growth

The growth of student population in the Decatur school district has proven to be a natural extension of the general population growth in the area.

During the last 10 years, school enrollment at Decatur grew from 2,570 to 2,901, using first-day enrollment figures.

That represents a 13 percent increase.

Census 2010To handle the growth, the district opened or modified several campuses in the 10-year span.

In 2000, the district opened Carson Elementary School, the second for the district, and the Multipurpose Building. A new high school opened in 2006, and Young Elementary School opened in the fall of 2010.

After a bond issue to address several maintenance needs failed in 2009, the district has continued to analyze and prioritize its needs. Earlier this year, NR2 Architects prepared a Facility Assessment Report on several of the district’s facilities.

The challenge the district is facing is maintaining its facilities, some of which are decades old, while working through a state-budget crisis that has forced the district to cut $4 million from its planned spending for the upcoming school year.

As enrollment numbers grow, so do the challenges of maintaining facilities.

According to enrollment projections and facility capacities, the district appears to be in good shape for the next several years.

When the high school was built, the middle school moved into the vacated building, and the intermediate school moved from Cates Street to the vacated middle school on Eagle Drive.

When Young Elementary was built, the elementary grade levels were expanded from pre-kindergarten through fourth to pre-kindergarten through fifth.

The former Decatur Intermediate School became a sixth-grade campus as part of Decatur Middle School.

According to a master planning document put together by Claycomb Associates Architects prior to the 2008 bond election for Young Elementary, school facilities still have room to grow. The high school has a capacity of 1,200 students, the middle school 800 students, the sixth grade campus 525 and the three elementaries 1,850.

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Barnett Shale factors into city’s growth

PIONEER WOMEN - A-plus RV park owner Paula Gardner (right) and receptionist B.J. Burks stand in front of the park that has exploded in tenants since its opening last year. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Newcomers to Wise County caused a population boom in the southern part of the county, but Alvord followed the growing population trend with help from the Barnett Shale.

Total Explorations moved their business into downtown Alvord in late 2009, expecting only to stay a few months.

“We move around,” said Glenda Rhoades, Total Explorations employee. “I’ve lived in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. We usually stay about eight months, but we’ve been here a year and four months.”

Census 2010The seismic permits company brought along several people from other states to live in this lucrative oil and gas area.

Rhoads said her family has lived in several states and towns before Alvord, but ther son has become more attached to this town.

“We like it,” Rhoades said. “We have met a lot of friendly people.”

A significant contributor to the 324-person increase in Alvord’s population is A-plus RV Park.

The number of housing units soared from 434 to 549, and the town’s numbers jumped from 1,007 in 2000 to 1,334 in 2010.

Paula Gardner owns and manages the RV park on Business U.S. 81/287 in Alvord. She and her husband opened the park in January 2010 and count Richard and Barbie Elmore, Total Exploration employees, as tenants.

“We typically work the Barnett Shale,” Richard said. “Our jobs are focused around Forestburg, Sunset, Chico and Bowie, so it’s pretty centrally located.”

Richard said the cost of living is cheaper in Alvord, and he knows several other people from oil and gas companies who make their temporary home in Alvord.

“Most people in the oil field work 12 to 14 hours a day and get called out at night for different things,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to just be local and run right back to the location.”

With constant moving, A-plus RV Park offers a low maintenance option for residents. “You don’t have the responsibility that you have with a house like caring for a yard,” Gardner said.

The park offers 47 pad sites with 10 reserved for overnighters. All 37 extended-stay filled up spots quicker than Gardner expected.

“We weren’t expecting a whole lot of people to come in, and we were almost full about June (of 2010),” Gardner said. “As long as their job is going strong, they will be in this area.

As Alvord continues to grow, Gardner said they are looking to offer a boarding option for people traveling with horses.

“I know Alvord is growing a lot, and I think it will help when the grocery store opens up,” Gardner said. “It’s also helped having Dollar General here, and then the school system is supposed to be really good here, so that makes a difference, too.”

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City’s Hispanic numbers are growing

City’s Hispanic numbers are growing

MAS MEANS MORE - Mas Meat and Produce Market co-owner Don Tucker uses his experience opening 25 Hispanic-geared grocery stores, Carnival, to help run his business in Bridgeport. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

In tallying the largest growth in the county from 4,309 in 2000 to 5,976 in 2010, the city of Bridgeport saw particular increases in the Hispanic population.

The number more than doubled from 1,215 in 2000 to 2,524 in 2010.

Businesses such as Mas Meat and Produce Market, Letty’s Uno Store, Maria’s Gift and Flower Shoppe and That Sweet Something have taken advantage of the opportunity.

Census 2010 BugAlthough each of the mentioned businesses claim not to cater solely to one demographic, there are features within each one that are especially popular among Hispanic clientele.

For example, money wiring and calling cards are popular products at both Letty’s Uno Store and Maria’s Gift and Flower Shoppe.

And certain products at Mas Meat and Produce Market – such as patas de puerco, tablitas, chorizo and menudo – are favored by the Hispanic population.

“(Our customers) are about 50 (Hispanic)/50 (non-Hispanic),” Mas Meat and Produce Market co-owner Don Tucker said. “You have to cater to all clientele. You have to have everybody involved.”

While working for Minyard Food Stores in the Metroplex, Tucker and business partner Doug White were responsible for researching and establishing 25 Carnival grocery stores geared toward the Hispanic community.

The two used their knowledge and experience from that to bring a specialized number of products not carried at other local stores to Bridgeport.

“You know what you know, and you come in and open up with what you know,” Tucker said. “You bring in the products you’ve found to be popular in your experiences. And in this area, not many grocery stores carry what we do.”

LOTS TO OFFER - Merchandise ranging from Mexican candy to birthday party invitations line the shelves of Leticia Moncada's Letty's Uno Store in Bridgeport. Although she claims people of all ethnicities appreciate the various products, Hispanic customers are predominant. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

At Letty’s Uno Store, quincea era albums and dolls, party banners and table cloths, loteria game sets, Mexican candy and T-shirts with the logos of popular Spanish novelas line the walls.

Although the merchandise Leticia Moncada carries at her store is predominately Hispanic-based, she said people of all races appreciate it.

“People of all ethnicities have parties,” Moncada said. “And although it is Mexican candy or Mexican soap, all people appreciate it. As a business owner, you can’t focus on one type of people.

“Of course, Hispanic business is more predominant here, but that’s because Hispanic people look for people who speak Spanish and who can help them resolve issues to do business with.”

Carrying on this notion, Tucker requires his employees speak English and Spanish to shatter any language barriers that may inhibit business.

“We get a lot of people who don’t speak English,” he said. “So it’s important that we help those customers. In terms of meat, I can understand what they may ask. But I’m not fluent.”

Since the opening of his store two years ago, Tucker has seen substantial growth, despite the economy.

The business has grown from a a produce stand and meat freezer to additional ice boxes with cheeses and homemade pico, shelves of canned goods, firewood and ceramic pots and iron skillets, popular among Hispanic households.

At Letty’s Uno Store, business has fluctuated with the economy, but the store remains open.

Both business owners credit the contribution of the Hispanic population boom to some extent.

“Some days are busier than others,” Moncada said. “But I’Mastill in business. And yes, the growth of the Hispanic population has contributed to that.”

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More calling Rhome home; City sees explosive growth rate, new residents becoming active

More calling Rhome home; City sees explosive growth rate, new residents becoming active

NEW FACES, TRADITIONAL IDEAS - Nearly 1,000 people have moved to Rhome in the past 10 years, boosting it to the third largest city in the county. Newcomer Chris Graves, who is running for city council, hopes to keep Rhome's rustic appeal in the face of inevitable growth and development. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Part 1 of a series examining demographic changes in Wise County

When entering Rhome eastbound on Texas 114, a green billboard announces “Elevation: 942 feet.”

If the sign had listed population, somebody would have scaled it a lot in the past 10 years to make corrections. When the U.S. Census released numbers for Texas last month, Rhome jumped past seven other cities to become the county’s third largest.

Census 2010Rhome posted the largest percentage increase in population by far, boasting a staggering 176 percent growth rate in one decade. With 551 residents in 2000, the city now has 1,522.

And the new Rhomans haven’t been standing idly by either. They’ve been quick to get involved.

“We liked the rural character and the openness of the lots, and we liked the tax rate,” said Evelyn Obenour.

She moved to Crown Point from Indiana five years ago. Now she is mayor of Rhome.

Newcomers moved into houses popping up on the hills, pastures and prairies. Several developments that added to the growth are Crown Point, Ellis Homestead and By Well Estates.

Plenty of others echo her sentiments for moving to Rhome, including city council member Gerry McBride.

“We sold our home in Highland Village and moved out here,” McBride said. “I’m a rural guy, and I liked the lower taxes.”

McBride moved to By Well Estates four years ago.

But as Rhome continues to grow, the rural character and even the lower taxes could be in jeopardy.

“Rhome is better off than a lot of cities,” McBride said of preparing for growth, but he admitted the difficulty of handling it.

“Infrastructure is very costly. You have to spend money to take care of water, sewer and road. You have to take care of it. You can’t let it deteriorate,” he said. “But you also don’t want to raise taxes. It can really put a hit on the people.”

He added that access to water is key to the future of Rhome.

Planning for the future

Today, the city hopes to get a plan in place. The city council was scheduled to discuss at 7 tonight at its regular meeting when to hold a session to create a master plan for Rhome.

McBride encourages public input. He said the city needs to act now to prepare for the coming growth.

“It would be great if we could maintain the feel of Rhome,” said Chris Graves.

Graves moved to Ellis Homestead one year ago with his wife and children. The rural character was a draw for him. But he knows more growth is coming. In fact, it was growth that first got him involved. When he heard that a Love’s Travel Stop was going up by his neighborhood, he had some concerns.

Graves is a broker for a trucking company, Strait Transport LLC. He was initially worried about the truck stop attracting criminals or other undesirables, such as “lot lizards.” But he eventually learned to accept the new store.

“I’m not a big fan of truck stops,” he said. “But it will be good for the town, and Love’s does a good job of maintaining safety at their locations.”

Now Graves is running for city council in the May election.

“I left the meeting feeling like I needed to start getting involved,” he said. “It’s one of those things. You can’t complain if you’re not going to get involved.”

He’s joined in the election by Cole Blanche, another newcomer to Rhome and a resident of Ellis Homestead. Blanche has lived in Rhome for a year-and-a-half. The council currently has no representation from the Ellis Homestead neighborhood.

It can be tough being a newcomer.

“I don’t want to get caught up in the stigma of being an Ellis guy,” Graves said. “I’m here for the long haul, and I want everybody to benefit.

“My first goal is to get a questionnaire out to people in the city. I want to find out what people want to see and don’t want to see with where the city is going.”

In respects to preparing the city for growth, Graves said it’s important to support the police and fire departments.

“We need to make sure we are fully equipping our law enforcement,” he said. “We’ll need them to handle the growth when it gets here.”

Growth inevitable

It seems like history is repeating itself. In the 1850s, present-day Rhome was located at the site where two stagecoach lines crossed.

Today, the city is situated in the cross hairs of growth, situated on Texas 114 and U.S. 81/287.

“Rhome is going to grow,” McBride said. “There is no doubt about it. The economy of today is not the economy of tomorrow. If it’s down today, it will be up tomorrow. Rhome will continue to grow because people have always moved to the outskirts of town.”

He predicts most of the growth will move in from the east along Texas 114 and from the south from U.S. 81/287.

There are also other areas ready to bloom.

“I think Rolling V will be the next big development,” Mayor Obenour said, “although it may be a couple of years away.”

She also said the quality schools in Rhome will continue to draw residents.

The Northwest school district owns property near Ellis Homestead. It plans to eventually build a third high school there.

“Any time a high school comes, more housing will come in to accommodate it,” McBride said.

City leaders remain optimistic they can handle the future. But they realize it will be a challenge to manage the growth properly and for Rhome to keep its rustic feel.

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