An aerial view of the village of Lovingston, the county seat of Nelson. 

While much of the Lynchburg area saw gains in population growth over the past decade, Amherst and Nelson counties each experienced slight declines since the 2010 census, according to estimates released Jan. 27 by the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.

Weldon Cooper demographers estimate Amherst County had 31,766 residents as of July 1, a drop of 1.8%, or just less than 600 residents since the most recent census a decade ago. Meanwhile, Nelson County had an estimated 14,794 residents as of July 1, a 1.5% decrease, or 226 residents less.

Amherst County’s population stood at 32,353 residents in the 2010 census while Nelson’s was at 15,020 residents. Amherst hovered over the 32,350 mark from 2011 to 2014 and dropped slightly while staying just above 32,000 the following two years, according to the Weldon Cooper’s website.

Amherst County’s high mark in the last decade was 32,595 estimated residents in 2014. From 2017 through last year the number has been below 32,000 with its July 2019 estimate the lowest of the decade.

Nelson County stayed slightly above the 15,000-residents mark from 2010 through 2014 and for the past five years gradually declined each year to its lowest mark in July, according to the estimated figures.

During the Nelson County Planning Commission’s January meeting, officials discussed a future update to the county’s comprehensive plan, which is a blueprint to guide growth and future development. The plan, last updated in 2014, is targeted for a revision next year and county officials are in the beginning stages of that process.

Commissioner Mary Kathryn Allen said during the Jan. 22 meeting for the county to see more growth she feels more infrastructure is needed. She spoke of what she described as a need for the county to focus on other areas besides the Virginia 151 corridor.

The city of Lynchburg grew by 5,215 residents, or 6.9%, while Bedford County had a gain of 3,683 residents, or 4.9%, in the past decade, estimates show. Appomattox and Campbell counties grew during the same span by 5.6%, or 845 residents, and 1.2%, or 638 residents, respectively. Rockbridge County since 2010 had 0.9% growth, or just fewer than 200 residents, estimates show.

Overall, the Charlottesville metropolitan area’s population has gone up by 9.6% over the last decade to 220,832. Charlottesville, Albemarle County and Louisa County were among the top 20 localities in the state that saw the most growth, percentage-wise, since 2010.

{span}Weldon Cooper’s estimates serve as the state’s official figures between the decennial U.S. censuses, and state and local governments use them to plan and budget. The 2019 estimates are the last batch released before the federal government conducts its next count of every person in the country this year.

“We are eager to get actual [2020] census results,” Amherst County Administrator Dean Rodgers said.

While various factors are at play in the estimates, one definite contributor Amherst officials have pointed to is the ongoing closure of the Central Virginia Training Center. The state-run facility for individuals with disabilities, which for many years was the county’s largest employer and generated thousands of jobs, is closing this summer.

The county has said redevelopment of the near 400-acre campus on Colony Road in Madison Heights, which has more than a century of history, is of paramount priority for the Lynchburg region in upcoming years.

Amherst County Public Schools’ in the fall of 2018 reversed a 12-year trend of declining student enrollment by recording a higher number of students coming into the school system than the previous year, according to figures shared during a March 2019 Amherst School Board retreat. The school system had 4,444 students in March 2010 and the number has declined each year until the 2018-19 school year. In February 2019 the enrollment was at 3,931, around 50 more than near the same time last year.

Based on estimates presented during the March 2019 retreat, the Amherst division projects the enrollment to keep climbing in the next three years and surpass the 4,000 mark. The more students the school system has the more state funding comes in.

“As the majority of the school system’s funding comes from the state and those dollars are based primarily on our enrollment, it is extremely vital that our enrollment continue to rise so we can maintain a level of funding that will meet the needs of our students,” Amherst Schools’ Superintendent Rob Arnold said in an email.

In Nelson, an early glimpse of the 2020-21 schools’ budget picture presented during the Nelson County School Board’s January meeting showed a potential revenue loss is based on a projected enrollment loss of about 31 students. During the last decade, Virginia’s population growth slowed, and much of the growth was concentrated in the Hampton Roads, Northern Virginia and Richmond metropolitan areas, according to the estimates. Compared to 2010, the state’s population grew by 6.7% to 8.5 million residents.“The main reason Virginia is not growing as quickly as it has in recent decades is that it is no longer able to attract enough residents from other states to make up for the Virginians who are moving out of the commonwealth,” Hamilton Lombard, a Weldon Cooper demographer who prepared the estimates, said in news release. From 2000 to 2010, the state’s population grew by 13%, according to census data.Lombard used changes in housing stock, school enrollment, births, deaths and driver’s licenses to calculate the populations, according to a news release.

Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.

Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.

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