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Casa Grande gearing up for snowbirds

CASA GRANDE, Ariz. -- The chill up north has begun to eclipse the desert heat for discomfort. Winter visitors shudder and dream of that land under the 33rd parallel: Casa Grande.

Beth Kortsen is getting ready for the great convergence. She's the manager of Fiesta Grande RV Resort, off East Florence Boulevard.

``We've been getting lots of calls,'' she said. ``It must be getting cold back where they're coming from.''

It must be. I spoke recently to Otto Klassen. He and his wife, Mo, are regular winter residents at Fiesta Grande. He's still up in Red Deer, Canada. It's in Alberta, somewhere between Calgary and the polar ice cap.

Before I called, I checked the official online Canadian weather page. I was surprised I didn't hear Klassen's teeth chattering. I told him the official Canadian weather page listed the day's high as 9 degrees.

``That's centigrade,'' he said.

Oh, right. That translates to a balmy 48 degrees Fahrenheit. And a warm front was on its way, Klassen said. It could be as warm as 60- Hawaiian-shirt weather in Canada.

``The nights are still above freezing,'' Klassen said. ``We'll probably see cooler weather at the end of October.''

And that's when the Klassens usually head this way. I imagine they first take a peek out the window. If they see dogs frozen to trees, they probably decide it's time.

This year there's been a slight change in plans, however, Klassen said. A health matter might push their return date back a few months, but they expect to be here in time for all the fun- activities in RV parlance.

RV parks throughout the Casa Grande Valley are big on activities.

Fiesta Grande was gearing up for them when I visited Kortsen.

We sat in the park's large ballroom. The occasional hum of a power tool broke into the conversation, as workers readied the place for Casa Grande's fair-weather friends.

That's not a knock. Who wouldn't want the best of both worlds? Mild summers. Mild winters. And winter visitors bring money to spend, not to mention a spirit of volunteerism. The food banks, hospital and many churches await the arrival of extra hands and kind hearts.

On top of that, winter visitors teach the whole town to take life easy, slow down- to about 25 in a 40 mph zone.

OK, I got the slow-driver joke out of my system.

At Fiesta Grande, Kortsen said, the ballroom floor will soon be buffed and ready for line dancing. As we spoke, lawn chairs were being taken out of storage, along with the pool covers. They'll help keep the heated pool warm when it's not in use.

The shuffleboard and horseshoe courts were getting prepped.

People are not returning in droves just yet. It's a trickle. The year-round folks- those who stick out the summers- number about 85, Kortsen said.

``Right now, I think we're up to 120,'' she said.

So the needle's starting to edge upward.

``They'll start trickling in from now until Thanksgiving,'' Kortsen added. ``The day after Christmas, don't stand at the front gate.''

By February, Fiesta Grande will be a bustling community of more than 700 people. The horseshoes will be flying. The mail will be burdensome.

In summer, Fiesta Grande mail fits in two or three official white postal bins.

``By the middle of January, we could get up to 40 of those tubs,'' Kortsen said.

The resort runs its own post office. Residents pick up their mail from individual boxes. In the mail room, you see the boxes from the back, cubbies that receive the sorted mail.

Most, for now, are covered with cardboard. As people return, the cardboard will be taken down and cubbies filled with letters and cards. And, of course, junk mail.

Chuck Nute is preparing for the swell of winter visitors in his own way. He's retired and has lived at Fiesta Grande with his wife, Rosie, for 20 years. They now live here year-round. He happened by as I spoke to Kortsen.

He was headed to the bulletin board to post the first tagalong outing of the season. People will take their own cars and meet up at a restaurant in Mesa.

``We hit all the restaurants,'' Nute said.

Just be mindful. They're in no hurry.

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