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Better conditions make for better Labor Day on Lanier
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Nick Williams prepares to help Kyle Newton gas up his boat Monday at Aqualand Marina. - photo by Tom Reed

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Listen as Philip Burton of Gainesville Marina & Boat Sales talks about business activity this past summer.

As the water returned to Lake Lanier this summer, so did the dollars.

"We’ve really seen a great improvement," said Jan Butze, dockmaster at Aqualand Marina in South Hall.

"It’s been much better, traffic-wise and business-wise than last year, and a lot of it has to do with the lake level being up and people feeling more comfortable about getting out here and enjoying their boats."

Signs of that were evident Monday as people enjoyed the Labor Day holiday — generally regarded as the unofficial close to summer.

Families were out on the lake, boating under a cloudless sky or spreading out across beaches at one of the lake’s many
shoreline parks.

"We’re seeing a little bit less activity than what we would have hoped," Butze said, "and a lot of that had a lot to do with it being so overcast on Friday and Saturday."

Still, "it’s been pretty busy today," she said during an interview Monday.

"We have a lot of our members who have rafted off in the middle (of the lake) or are on islands and things — they’ve been throwing some good island parties this weekend."

Philip Burton, president of Gainesville Marina & Boat Sales, said his business also has seen increased activity this summer, particularly with gasoline sales.

"Boat sales are certainly coming back around, especially in the used boat segment," he said. "(We) probably can’t get enough of good used boats."

Overall, "we seen somewhat of a comparable increase in people using their boats over last year," Burton said.

As for Labor Day, "we have seen steady traffic, not tremendous, but good steady flow," he said.

Ben and Betsy Bahnsen of Gainesville brought their four children and Betsy’s mother, Oby Wellman of Athens, to Gainesville Marina for a day of boating and fun.

"We have a pontoon, which is a good family boat," Ben Bahnsen said. "The kids have room to move around and (the boat) doesn’t go so fast that it is dangerous."

The lake seemed like a logical destination on Labor Day.

"The kids love to swim and it is fun for everybody," he said. "It gets them out of the house and gives them something to do."

"And tires them out," said Betsy Bahnsen, laughing.

Business was humming along both at Skogie’s at Gainesville Marina and Dockside Grill at Aqualand Marina.

Customers were lining up to place lunchtime orders at Dockside, as Jimmy Buffet music poured from speakers behind the counter.

Skogie’s also was drawing the hungry, including Lynn and David Mansfield of Stone Mountain.

"We normally come over by boat for lunch, but we were running a little behind today and decide to come by car," Lynn Mansfield said.

Krista Bryan, who manages Skogie’s, said the normally seasonal restaurant is looking at staying open year-round, if business stays up.

"We were slammed (Sunday). Lunch and dinner, it was a madhouse," Bryan said.

Butze said the recession has had some "negative effects" on business.

"If we hadn’t had the economic setbacks ... we would have had what we would call a normal year," she said. "We’re still about 20 percent off what we would normally do during the course of the summer."

The big relief for boaters is lower gas prices.

"We’ve had the cheapest gas this year than we’ve had (for the holiday) in the past four years," Butze said.

Kyle Newton of Suwanee was a happy boater on Monday.

"The lake’s a little down, but nowhere near like last year," he said. "It was a hazard out here last year.

"I bought a new boat — that’s how much confidence I have in the lake." Newton added that he has logged many hours on Lanier’s waters.

"I’m trying to stimulate the economy by myself," he said, laughing.

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