Clark County’s median age on the upswing

Census: Younger-than-18 population also grows rapidly

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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Fern Prairie resident Jim Fisher describes himself as the “old hermit of Skunk Hollow.” He has lived in his modest home on 1.5 acres since 1969. At age 68, Fisher could be the poster child for the rural community’s main demographic: older, well-rooted residents who live primarily on acreage.

“I was looking for a place to rent,” Fisher said. “I immediately liked the wooded area around it and the creek that runs around it. A few years later, I entered into a contract to buy it.”

Like the nation as a whole, Clark County residents are getting older as people live longer, postpone parenthood and have fewer children.

The county’s median age increased from 34.2 in 2000 to 36.5 in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Still, the county is relatively young compared with the national median of 37.2, and it still produces and attracts more children than the national average. Clark County’s younger-than-18 population grew 13.7 percent in the past ten years, compared with 2.6 percent nationwide.

Part of the continued growth in the younger-than-18 population may be the attractiveness of the county’s schools and suburban lifestyle to families. But the county’s faith-based community also plays a role, community leaders said.

Camas, La Center and Vancouver nearly match the county’s median age of 36.5. Battle Ground, Five Corners, Hazel Dell, Minnehaha, Orchards, Ridgefield, Washougal, Woodland and Yacolt come in below the county median. Above the county median are Amboy, Barberton, Brush Prairie, Cherry Grove, Dollars Corner, Duluth, Felida, Fern Prairie, Hockinson, Lake Shore, Lewisville, Meadow Glade, Mount Vista, Salmon Creek, Venersborg and Walnut Grove.

“Where you have the oldest residents is relative to the turnover in the neighborhood, so in a neighborhood where there has been little change, the residents tend to be older,” said Mike Lamb, a Vancouver real estate broker with Windermere Real Estate. “A lot of people age in place.”

Low turnover decreases the availability of housing in a neighborhood and tends to drive up prices.

“Younger families may not be able to afford a house in that area, so ages have a lot to do with the life cycle of a neighborhood,” Lamb said.

Sam Mikel with Vancouver’s Scott Mikel & Associates said her clients often have to wait a long time to find a house in their price range in neighborhoods such as Felida, where the median age is 40.7.

Fern Prairie, with a median age of 46.2, represents the oldest demographic in the county, according to the 2010 census. The census calculates median age by city and by what’s called a census-designated place. In Fern Prairie — a census-designated place north of Camas — more than half of the 1,884 population is age 45 or older.

“About half the homes in Fern Prairie are 40 years or older,” said Fisher. “A lot of the homes are on working farms. It’s very established. There hasn’t been any massive amount of home construction for years.”

The cities of Yacolt and Battle Ground have the lowest median age in the county, 25 and 30, respectively. About 38.6 percent of Yacolt’s 1,566 residents are younger than 18. Some 34.5 percent of Battle Ground’s 17,571 population is younger than 18.

Both are strongholds of faith beliefs that tend to include members with large families.

“Apostolic Lutherans are a large proportion in our community, and they tend to have more children,” said Battle Ground Mayor Michael Ciraulo. “They are very represented in north Clark County.”

There are two Apostolic Lutheran churches in Clark County, one in Hockinson and one in Vancouver.

A significant population of Mormons and Roman Catholics also may drive up the number of north county’s children, Ciraulo said.

New housing developments, such as those that popped up in Ridgefield and Battle Ground in the past decade, and apartment complexes common in places such as Hazel Dell and Orchards also are indicative of younger populations, real estate brokers said.

“Ridgefield has had a lot of development of $200,000 to $300,000 homes,” Mikel said. “I suspect that’s why their median age has gone down.”

Jerry Newell, a coach with the American Youth Soccer Organization in Yacolt, said many families he works with tell him they prefer Yacolt because it’s rural and family-oriented.

“A lot of people move out to Yacolt to keep their kids sheltered,” Newell said. “A lot of it has to do with economics. Houses are a lot cheaper. People can get a house with a yard, which is important for children.”

Yacolt Primary School is the largest elementary school in the Battle Ground School District with 815 students, said Gregg Herrington, district communications director. It’s about the eighth largest in the state, according to the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

“I had a couple that would only live in Yacolt,” said Gini Moran, a local real estate broker with Keller Williams Reality. “They were having their sixth child and needed grandma to be around to baby-sit.” Grandma, it turns, out lived in Yacolt.

Similar factors fuel the young population in Battle Ground, Ciraulo said.

“I have no empirical evidence,” he said. “I speak from being intimately involved in many aspects of the Battle Ground community. It’s a combination of factors. No. 1, we have an entry-level housing market, so a lot of young families tend to immigrate to Battle Ground. That’s a pricing point. No. 2 is the demographic of the faith community.”

Ciraulo said the City of Battle Ground has tried to accommodate the young population with a variety of activities, from soccer fields to a skate park, named the second best in Western Washington in 2010 by The Seattle Times.

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