St. George, Utah
Nestled in Southwestern Utah, Sun Drenched St. George Draws Retirees Seeking a Dry Climate, Golf, Spectacular Natural Beauty, Healthy Living and a Slightly Mystical Quality
Cost of Living: Above the National Average
Scenic St. George (population 92,000) is nestled in the very southwest corner of Utah, about 120 miles northeast of Las Vegas, and started out in 1861 as a cotton mission under the direction of Brigham Young, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The plan was to produce a crop that would help the Church become self-sufficient. The idea never quite worked out, but St. George managed to prosper as a quiet religious outpost for more than 100 years. Then in the 1970s, tourists began to discover it, and during the last 10 years, this sun drenched metropolis' population has grown 20%.
Much of this growth has come from retirees drawn to the stunning desert setting, dry climate, blue skies, a bounty of outdoor recreation and year-round golf. In fact, 36% of the population is age 45 or better. Thirty percent of all locals have at least a four year college degree. Most residents lean to the right politically. The crime rate is well below the national average, and the cost of living is 24% higher than the national average.
The median home price is $540,000, reflecting a 34% increase since last year. Housing is an interesting mix of old, smaller pioneer homes in town and dozens of newer, sprawling, Southwestern-style developments with single family homes and town homes on the edges of the city, many of which were built within the last couple of decades. Desert Color is a new master planned development that will eventually have 10,000 residences, retail spaces, resort facilities and lakes. SunRiver is a lovely 55+ community with a riverfront golf course.
Apartments are in good supply. There is also a significant RV retiree population here, and four RV resorts, including the Palms RV Resort, accommodate road warriors year round.
Utah is only moderately friendly when it comes to taxes and retirement. Social Security and all other retirement income is taxed at 4.95%, but the state does allow people age 65 and better to claim a tax exemption of $450 (single) or $900 (married) if they meet certain income requirements. The average effective property tax rate (the annual tax payment as a percentage of median home value) in St. George is .53%. The annual taxes on a $540,000 home are approximately $2,862. The combined sales tax is 9%.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has always had a strong influence in St. George and still does so today. Brigham Young built a winter home here, and the gleaming white St. George Temple, built in 1877, is hard to miss (it is also the Church's longest continually-operating temple). One notable Latter Day Saints manifestation is that St. George has no full-fledged bars, and only a few restaurants serve liquor. This is clean living country.
The city has taken on somewhat of a resort ambiance in the last several years, too, but it really has very little nightlife. A lot of emphasis is placed on family, building community and maintaining traditional values.
St. George sits along two rivers on the edge of the Mojave Desert, and the landscape is constantly changing color. Shadows dance over the desert, often turning it from a tapestry of blazing gold and red to a patchwork of refreshingly purple and blue. Surrounding mountains, green valleys and striking red sandstone buttes on the north side of town add to St. George's mystical quality.
Amid all this natural beauty, opportunities for outdoor fun abound. There are 10 golf courses, and several spectacular state parks are close at hand. Rugged Zion National Park may be the most well known and is home to soaring red rock formations, cliffs and inspiring desert vistas.
Not too far off is Bryce Canyon National Park, a series of pink limestone amphitheaters that seem to glow at sunset. Visitors can bike, hike, ride horses or fish. Three large nearby reservoirs double as parks and have marinas for fishing, water skiing and boating. Arizona's Grand Canyon is 300 miles to the south.
In and around town, 35 miles of paved, walking and biking trails connect 25 parks, dozens of neighborhoods, beautiful desertscapes and the town center (there is a neighborhood park or paved walking path within one half mile of everyone in St. George). The Sand Hollow Aquatic Center has swimming and diving venues. The St. George Recreation Center is home to racquetball courts, game rooms, hobby and craft activities, a gym and more.
Downtown has a slight Route 66 vibe with law offices, real estate agents, restaurants, clothiers and more housed in historic buildings. Parks are plentiful. The Red Cliffs Mall is not huge but has more than 50 stores, and the Shoppes at Zion has 30 stores with name brand retailers. The St. George branch of the Washington County library system is in a pretty red brick building and has public computers with Internet access. Tabernacles dot the city.
SunTran is the public transit system and offers four routes through town. The regular fare is $1.00, but anyone age 65 or better rides for $.50. There is also a curb to curb service. And while St. George may seem isolated, it is just off of Interstate 15, Utah's primary north-south connector.
Senior Sampler is the weekly newspaper geared for older adults, and the friendly St. George Senior Citizen's Center (age 60+) sponsors a wide variety of activities and events, including health screenings, dance classes, legal services, meals-on-wheels, yoga, trips and a volunteer program. St. George also hosts the annual Huntsman World Senior Games, in which seniors from all over the world compete.
Dixie Regional Medical Center is a 284-bed community hospital with two locations and a world-class cardiac care center. It has been recognized as a Top 100 Hospital, as the Best Regional Hospital and is the major referral hospital for northwestern Arizona, southeastern Nevada and southern Utah. It is accredited by the Joint Commission, and Medicare patients are accepted. The Doctors' Volunteer Clinic, a private, non-profit, community-based health care clinic, provides medical care at no cost to citizens who cannot pay. For military retirees, St. George has a VA outpatient clinic, but the nearest VA hospital is in Las Vegas, 125 miles away.
As would be expected, St. George is hot in the summer. Temperatures in July and August can easily reach 100 degrees or more but humidity levels are low (the area receives about eight inches of rain annually). Evening temperatures are considerably cooler, usually dipping into the 60s and 70s. Winters are generally mild, with an occasional dusting of snow and daytime temperatures in the 40s and 50s. The sun shines 300 days of the year.
Water is always a concern in this part of the country. St. George residents use twice the amount of water that other Southwestern residents use, and the city is considering reigning in use through higher fees. It is also discussing building the Lake Powell Pipeline, a pipeline that could pump 86,000 acre-feet of water a year into St. George reservoirs, providing enough water for years to come. Some residents support the pipeline while others do not. St. George also gets much of its electricity from Lake Powell's Glen Canyon Dam, which is fed by the Colorado River. There are concerns that the dam's water level could soon drop too low to generate electricity, forcing the city to purchase water on the open market, which could raise water prices and slow growth.
For all of the positives about St. George, there are some things to keep in mind in addition to the water situation. Infrastructure has not always kept pace with growth, and suburban sprawl is visible on the city's outskirts. Some newcomers complain that there is a definite division between members of the Church and non-members, with each "side" keeping to itself. Yet many long time residents say that with its growth during the last decade, St. George has become more welcoming than it has been in the past.
So while this desert oasis is not for everyone, and especially not for anyone seeking lots of nightlife or a fast pace, it may be the perfect place for outdoor lovers in search of a safe, quiet city with a dry climate and surrounding natural beauty.
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