Chris and Justine Blad liked their "starter" home in Mishawaka's Rosewood subdivision, but when their son, Garrett, was born in 2008, they looked to upgrade.
They wanted, among other things, a finished basement, a larger yard, and more neighbors with children Garrett's age. They began their search in Granger and never looked elsewhere, ultimately buying a ranch in Bridlewood, a subdivision built in the early 2000s northeast of Elm Road and Indiana 23.
"It's my dream area," Justine said. "Quiet cul-de-sac. The house is well-built. We're closer to the things we shop at. I love our neighbors."
They weren't alone. From 2000 to 2010, the population in their part of Granger added 2,885 residents, the largest numerical gain of any census tract in St. Joseph County, according to recently released data from the 2010 census.
Their tract is bounded by Fir Road to the west, the Indiana-Michigan line to the north, roughly the intersection of Adams Road and Indiana 23 to the east and the Indiana Toll Road to the south.
Throughout the county over the decade, inner-city areas of both South Bend and Mishawaka lost population to their suburban fringes. The county's total population grew slightly, from 265,559 to 266,931, an increase of .5 percent.
But the number of people living outside incorporated cities and towns rose by 4.5 percent, from 104,055 to 108,770.
The city of South Bend lost 6,621 residents.
Steve and Sharon Obert built a home in 2006 in the Staffordshire Estates, southeast of Jackson and Ironwood roads. They had moved there from a house on Hartman Street, less than a mile to the north.
In 2003, they had moved to Hartman Street from Georgian Court, off York Road, also on South Bend's far south side.
Each of the two moves took them a bit further south.
The Oberts' census tract, bounded on the west by Ironwood, on the north by Dragoon Trail, on the east by Dogwood Road and on the south by an arbitrary line that's just south of Kern Road, saw the county's second-largest numerical jump in population. The tract's population grew by 1,260 residents, or 19 percent, rising from 6,594 to 7,854.
The Oberts chose their current home, which is still barely within South Bend's city limits, because it falls inside Penn-Harris-Madison School Corp. boundaries.
"I just felt like my sons (Daniel, 14, and David, 10) would get a better education and have more opportunities" than in the South Bend Community School Corp., Sharon said. "I feel like we've been able to give them positive role models at school. They're both involved with music and extracurriculars."
Steve Obert said the couple preferred to stay on South Bend's southern edge than move to Granger.
"We like the convenience of this location with the bypass and the shopping, and we don't have the traffic headaches we'd have up north," he said.
P-H-M added 713 students over the decade, its enrollment rising from 9,888 to 10,601, or 7.2 percent, according to Indiana Department of Education data. The South Bend corporation's enrollment fell from 21,300 to 21,103, or 197 students. School City of Mishawaka lost 100 students, its enrollment decreasing from 5,223 to 5,123.
The census tract experiencing the third-largest numerical population growth came in the northwestern part of the county. Tract 109 is bounded by the state line to the north, Olive and Pine roads to the east, a rail line to the south and an invisible line just west of Crumstown Highway to the west. That tract added 1,241 residents, its population rising from 6,513 to 7,754, a 19 percent increase.
The fourth-largest numerical population growth came in the Osceola area, in a tract bounded on the east by the Elkhart-St. Joseph County line, on the south by a line just south of Kern Road, on the west by Dogwood Road, and on the north by the St. Joseph River. That tract added 913 residents, its population rising from 6,427 to 7,340, or 14 percent.
Roughly two-thirds of those additional residents live with the town limits of Osceola, whose population jumped from 1,859 to 2,463, or 32 percent.
But the continued growth in those living outside incorporated areas, a trend that intensified during the 1990s, has and will continue to pose a challenge for county government, said Jessica Clark, county engineer.
"The highway department has to react to that growth," Clark said. "Additional roads need to be maintained and plowed. Their work force has increased."
At the same time, gas tax revenues, the primary funding source for county road maintenance, continue to decline because of more fuel-efficient vehicles on the road, while material costs keep rising, Clark said.
"We're not meeting the needs of our infrastructure," Clark said. "Our programs are falling short."
Staff writer Jeff Parrott: