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Castle Pines neighborhoods on rolling hills and big lots with views. (Shutterstock)

Colorado’s smaller cities and towns saw the greatest growth from 2020 to 2022, new U.S. Census Bureau estimates show, while the state’s largest cities and ski towns saw declining or stable populations.

The changes come as Colorado’s population ages and people search for more affordable housing, state demographer Elizabeth Garner said.

Keenesburg, a Weld County town along Interstate 76 about 40 miles northeast of Denver, logged the most growth with a 65% population explosion over two years. That town grew to 2,080 in 2022 from 1,258 in 2020.

“They’ve been putting in a lot of housing,” Garner said. “A lot of the metro area has already been built. Keenesburg is a great location on a transportation corridor. It’s lower cost.”

The census estimates released Thursday are based on births, deaths, people moving in and out and the number of housing units, Garner said. So they aren’t based on survey data like the census taken every 10 years or the annual American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Previous estimates showed the state’s total population in 2022 at just over 5.8 million people, up about 1% since 2020.

Smaller towns near Denver metro area see biggest growth

Of the top 15 cities and towns for growth between 2020 and 2022 most were under 10,000 population. 

Six of the top 16 were all or partially in Weld County, with most of the top-growth towns north or east of the Denver metro area.

“The area is ripe,” Garner said of the growth in so many small towns. “If you go out (I-76) east, you’re going to see the same thing, like in Wiggins. You’re going to see it east and north, because that’s areas where we have the most available land.”

Keenesburg saw significant growth after developers constructed hundreds of new homes in the small town in recent years. The project was expected to take about four years to complete. The homes were finished and sold in about 18 months, interim Town Manager Roger Tinklenberg said. 

“Obviously there was pent-up demand in the area,” he said. 

New residents say they moved to the area to get out of the big cities while still being able to commute to the Denver region for work, Tinklenberg said. Homes are also much more affordable with a median home price about $100,000 cheaper than in Denver, according to Zillow.

The town is set to develop further with up to 10,000 more homes possible over the next 30 years.

Still, Tinklenberg says there hasn’t been any talk of changing the town’s motto: “Home of 500 happy people and a few soreheads.”

Some of those happy people (and maybe even the soreheads) are welcoming the growth, even if they don’t want to see it become anything close to a metropolitan area.

Brian Anderson, the director of school for a local commercial driver’s license school, said he’s hoping to see the town expand in a sustainable way. 

“It’s going to impact infrastructure. … But at the same time, I think it’s going to bring some of the benefits of growth, which could be more activities for the kids, maybe a rec center,” he said. “If the town doesn’t grow, it’s gonna get swallowed by the surrounding towns.”

The town of Timnath, which is just southeast of Fort Collins along I-25, saw the second highest growth, up 40%. That’s an increase of about 2,600 people. 

“Northern Colorado just really is a very desirable place,” Timnath Town Manager Aaron Adams said. “I think that there’s a lot of things that are appealing to folks when they see those options, the options of new construction, new builds, a desirable school district, and then a town that they perceive to be well run and offering a lot of things to draw them in.”

Adams said the town, which draws shoppers from throughout the region for its retail (including the area’s only Costco), works to maintain a “small-town feel” by consistently hosting local events.

Over the next 15 to 20 years, Adams expects the town to reach its maximum capacity of about 35,000 residents, he said. 

Castle Pines, 10th on the list, is one of the only two municipalities in the top 10 with more than 10,000 residents. Between 2020 and 2022, the city grew about 20% to 13,486 from 11,215. 

City Manager Michael Penny told The Colorado Sun much of that expansion came from development agreements made in the 2010s that just recently came to fruition. 

“I’m not surprised. I think it was intentional by the council,” Penny said. “There’s probably ex-council members that are thinking, ‘Finally, why’d it take so long?’” 

Still, the city sees its growth as having stagnated recently.

“I think that (growth) would have continued except for the economic worldwide issues that are out there and I think it’ll pick up again once that all gets figured out,” Penny said.

Ski towns lose, big cities are stable

Several mountain towns, including Vail and Aspen, were among the biggest population losers between 2020 and 2022.

That’s in part due to Colorado’s aging population.

“What we’re seeing is a lot of net migration out of the older adults,” Garner said. 

About 75 municipalities saw less than 1% change in their population, including Thornton, Steamboat Springs, Golden, Crested Butte, Englewood, Lakewood and Pueblo. 

And the state’s largest population centers are also seeing slower growth, with the exception of Castle Rock in Douglas County, which grew 8.5% between 2020 and 2022.

Denver, the state’s largest city, saw a slight population dip, while Colorado Springs, the second largest city, saw a 1.2% gain. Boulder saw the largest drop among the largest 15 cities, losing 2.4% of its population.

“Colorado is slowing down in terms of growth,” Garner said. “Colorado is in the middle of a pretty big transition, especially with the aging.”

Rising housing prices and that aging population likely mean more population changes ahead for the state.

“It’s going to be harder for Colorado to attract and retain the best and the brightest and we’ve never had that struggle before,” Garner said. “If a place is going to be fighting for you that has lower housing costs, you’re going to go there.”

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Elliott Wenzler

Elliott Wenzler is a reporter for the Colorado Sun, covering local politics, the state legislature and other topics. She also assists with The Unaffiliated newsletter. Previously, she was a community reporter in Douglas County for Colorado Community Media. She has won awards for her...

Sandra Fish

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @fishnette