By Tom Hacker

Loveland’s population grew by nearly one-third during the past decade, placing it among Colorado’s fastest growing cities.

U.S. census workers counted 66,859 Loveland residents in the official tabulation that occurs every 10 years.

In the first sampling of census data released late Wednesday, Northern Colorado showed up as one of the state’s top growth centers during the past decade.

“We’ve seen that growth in the North Front Range, which we definitely expected,” Colorado demographer Elizabeth Garner said during an interview on what she acknowledged was the busiest day of her career. “We saw that one coming.”

Other smaller Northern Colorado towns grew even faster than Loveland did from 2000 to 2010.

Wellington more than doubled, and Windsor was just shy of doubling. Once-tiny Timnath tripled its population.

But Fort Collins, Greeley and Longmont, the other municipalities in the region classified as cities, lagged well behind Loveland in their rates of growth.

‘Biggest Gains’

Larimer County’s population, with a 19 percent growth rate since 2000, was just a few hundred under 300,000, the numbers show.

“Most of the top five biggest gains in the state were in your region,” Garner said.

While Loveland was near the top of the fastest-growing Colorado cities, it also was among the least ethnically diverse.

Census officials said 7,816 people in Loveland, or 11.7 percent, identified themselves as Hispanic. By comparison, Fort Collins had a Hispanic population of 10.1 percent, and Greeley had a Hispanic population of 36.0 percent.

Other changes during the past decade are apparent to Lovelanders: Development of Centerra, for example, was limited 10 years ago to a pair of office buildings, a handful of stores, a scattering of apartments and a few single-family homes.

“Certainly the city has enjoyed healthy growth in the past decade, and I would expect that that will continue,” City Manager Bill Cahill said Wednesday.

“Northern Colorado is one of the fastest growing regions in the state because of its economic strength.”

The new census count for Loveland exceeds the city’s 2010 estimate, but not by much.

The annual data report prepared by the city’s Development Services Department, drawing from multiple state, federal and local information sources, pegged the population at 66,572.

Snapshot In Time

The same report forecasts a population growth rate this year of 1.3 percent for the city. Because the census figure is a snapshot dating from April 2010, the population has almost certainly topped 67,000 by now.

“I certainly don’t think we’ve lost population since last year,” Mayor Cecil Gutierrez said. “It’s safe to say we’ve grown some since then.”

Wednesday’s census numbers are the first blush.

They will be followed during the spring and summer by a flood of others — statistics that will tell stories of increasing ethnic diversity, shifting neighborhood makeup, household size, real estate ownership patterns, income and countless other demographic traits.

One sure result of the census will be a redrawing of political boundaries that range from school districts to congressional districts.

Garner said that while she expected evidence of trends that she has been following for years to be borne out in the new census, some surprises surfaced.

“Maybe one small trend, one that we weren’t maybe ready for, was that 17 of the state’s counties actually lost population,” she said. Most of those are strung along the state’s eastern and southeastern borders.

Another outlier is Boulder. The landlocked city, surrounded by a moat of designated open space, posted one of the state’s smallest growth rates, just under 3 percent during the past decade, with a population of just over 97,000.

“I know that Boulder is going to be disappointed in their count,” Garner said. “They expected to top 100,000.”