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Ask Matt ... about snowbird count

The Lightning's Matt Matteson gets answers to reades' questions.

Q. How much does our population increase during the summer months?

If Henderson County were Nags Head, we could simply count the people as they drove over the bridge. Not so easy. I first posed your question to our county planning folks but they came up dry. Next stop was the Postal Service but they don't track seasonal mail stops. Our tourism office keeps visitor lodging data but those numbers spike on weekends and I needed to capture a broader and sustained summer population group.
So absent any official data on seasonal population I took it upon myself to gather my own. I needed to convert available statistics into people using what I call "measurables" – items that would gauge population change but would be least affected by age, economic status, personal preference, or geography. The five I chose were water consumption, solid waste, EMS calls, ABC store sales and a commodity — paper towel sales. Since retail sales data is highly proprietary, I was grateful to get help from one local retailer. For my spring vs. summer model I grouped February, March and April and compared them to June, July and August. My data went back three years. I was now armed with numbers; I just wasn't sure how to use them.
Throwing out all accepted mathematical practices, I employed my own guerrilla statistics (the term "voodoo" was already taken). I factored the percentage increase from each of the five groups based upon their respective relevance (decided by me). Solid waste was given the highest value and EMS calls the lowest with the others falling in between. We host 36,000 summer campers who leave a much smaller footprint, so I added a separate factor for them and tacked that on at the end. So good readers, (drum roll please) I have estimated that the population in Henderson County increases by 21.6% during the summer months. Applying this to the official 2012 population of 108,266, the county swells by a net 23,385 people.
Now you might think the number would have been higher, but the seasonal population door swings both ways. Our incoming summer visitors are partially offset by our own folks heading to Paris or Myrtle Beach and using someone else's water! Sure, converting trash, water, and booze into people is probably bad science, but if you've got a better model, let's hear it.

Q. Is Hendersonville ready for its own Groundhog Day event? Chimney Rock has one.

And Charlotte has its Queen Charlotte, Raleigh has Sir Walter Wally (say that with a straight face) and Asheville has Nibbles, who calls the WNC Nature Center home. Those events are usually affiliated with some sort of zoo which we have none. BRCC once hosted a nature center about a dozen years ago. Its director, "Nature Joe" Duckett, couldn't find permanent funding and the center closed. Joe moved on to Montana but is now back in the nature business in Eureka, Calif. Hey, you gotta go where the critters are.