Ten-year-old Owen Rager and his family make the short trip to Buford’s Aquamarina Lazy Days from their suburban Gwinnett County home at least once a week to take their 21-foot Sea Ray out of a multideck dry storage and go boating on Lake Lanier.
He said they visit so often because of, not in spite of, a drought that has socked the lake with near record-low pool levels.
"We actually go out more because we’re so concerned about the lake level," Rager said, "It keeps going down."
On Saturday, Rager joined other kids who frequent the marina in banging nails into a rudimentary wooden boat being built near the marina’s 600-plus slips.
The newly renamed facility in South Hall was holding a National Marina Day celebration with kids’ rides, music, food and drinks, and officials did their best to put a happy face on what they acknowledged was a "quadruple-whammy" to the local boating industry: the economy, fuel prices, the drought and lake levels.
"One of the biggest things we’ve tried to do this season is to remind people that even with the lake levels down, that there’s still wonderful opportunities to come here to the marina and enjoy your boat," said Aqua Marine Partners CEO Andrew Sturner.
His company, based in Hollywood, Fla., acquired Lazy Days Marina in April 2007 and rechristened the 30-year-old facility Aquamarina Lazy Days in recent weeks.
To that end, customer appreciation events were held, and the marina invested in a new, high-priced forklift designed to handle heavier boats and launch them in lower lake levels.
"Our whole philosophy is to make the marina a fun place to be rather than just a parking lot for boats," Sturner said. "The fact that we’re having some issues with water levels this year should not in any way diminish your ability to come out and enjoy the facility."
Sturner said Lazy Days is a good investment for his company, which owns five other marinas in Florida and has set aside $3 million for capital improvements in the Hall County facility — as soon as the drought subsides.
For now, company officials are weathering the storm — or lack of storms, as it were.
"We see this as a short-term phenomenon, and over the next few years lake levels will come back," Sturner said. "We find that our customers have so much passion over boating that they’re not going to give it up over anything. This is what they work so hard all week for."
"This event today is a primary example of the usefulness of a marina with or without the high lake levels," said Mike Shanley, vice president of Watermark Properties Group and chairman of National Marina Day.
Shanley said the main purpose of National Marina Day was to heighten the awareness and stress among policymakers the importance of public-access marinas.
Shanley, of Sarasota, Fla., has no doubt the exposed shores of Lanier won’t last forever.
"I certainly believe that the water levels will once again begin to rise," he said.