Lamoille County is experiencing a growth spurt.
Morristown has long been Lamoille County’s most populous town, at least when it comes to the people who call it home. But Stowe has all but caught up over the past decade, and the increased population is likely to spell changes for both burgs.
According to 2020 census figures, Stowe’s population grew by 21 percent over the past decade, adding more than a thousand people during that time. That put the town’s official population at 5,223, a mere four people fewer than Morristown, which added about 200 residents to its roster.
There’s a good chance Stowe has already overtaken its erstwhile larger northern neighbor.
Lamoille County as a whole, while still the second-least populous county in Vermont, had the second largest per capita population increase, at 6 percent, trailing only Chittenden County for percentage increase.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Stowe’s population explosion is that the census numbers only reflect the first couple of months of the pandemic. With Lamoille County holding the title for the safest county in the safest state for a spell, before the Delta variant of the coronavirus dashed those bragging rights, people began moving here in droves, even as people with second homes in town made them their primary residences, adding more people to the voter checklists and tax rolls.
Already, in 2020, Stowe had seen a 38-percent jump in the purchase of real estate by out-of-staters compared to the year before.
What was different this year than in the first year of life in the time of COVID? A marked decline in agoraphobia, for one. Last year, at the beginning of the pandemic, the mere sight of a theretofore unseen New York or Massachusetts license plate was enough for a small but vocal segment of the population to say, “go home.”
This year, those folks with out-of-state license plates just might call this area home. They might have voted in their first local elections. They might have kids in the schools.
This growth spurt means Stowe will almost certainly no longer be able to enjoy having one lawmaker representing the whole town, and no one else, in the Vermont Legislature. As part of the decennial re-drawing of the political map — still going on — the question wasn’t if, but how, Stowe and Morristown would get carved up.
The appointed seven-person Legislative Apportionment Board responsible for coming up with redrawn House and Senate maps did so only narrowly, with 4-3 votes to forward to the Legislature maps that favor single-person districts.
To do that, the board sliced much of the Stowe Hollow area from the town’s western flank and ceded it to Morristown, which in turn was carved up, ceding the residential half of the village and anything west of Randolph Road to Elmore and Wolcott, which would remain intact, but could set up a showdown among popular Democratic incumbents.
Of course, that’s all academic at this point. The idea of single-member districts may be popular across the board, but it’s particularly lauded by Republicans, who are heavily outnumbered in the Legislature.
There have been some questions about whether the increased population is here to stay, or if the numbers reflect a temporary bubble, riding out the pandemic.
But as previous population spikes have shown — think the back-to-the-land hippies in the 1960s and 1970s or the white-collar refugees from New York City post-9/11 — sometimes these things are like waves. When one crashes ashore, it eventually recedes, but there are always plenty of mollusks or crustaceans that stick around.
The difference is, they bring their houses along with them.