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Business leaders smiling as Lake Lanier rises
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Doug and Mary Youngblood take their lunch outdoors Wednesday afternoon at Skogie’s at Gainesville Marina.

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Rick Skoglund, owner of Skogie’s restaurant at Gainesville Marina, talks about the increase in business thanks to a rise in Lake Lanier.

Rick Skoglund usually loses money in April at Skogie’s, his seasonal restaurant at Gainesville Marina off Dawsonville Highway.

Business is generally slow, so operating hours are usually kept to weekends.

But not this year.

"After we were open two weeks, we went ahead to a five-day schedule because we were the busiest we’ve ever been," Skoglund said.

"We held our own last year, but we might be back to doing the kind of business we did in 2007."

A rising Lake Lanier has buoyed Skoglund’s optimism. Other businesses around the lake or that support the lake are reporting a similar increase in activity.

Lake Lanier is at 1,065.53 feet above sea level, less than 6 feet off the full pool of 1,071 feet. The lake, a huge tourist draw and economic boon for Hall County, was at 1,057.75 feet last Memorial Day in the throes of a two-year drought.

Lake businesses suffered a triple whammy last year. Not only was the lake low, but gas prices were high and the recession was starting to kick into high gear.

Park Marine Boating Center, which sells boats, a high-ticket item that has scared off consumers during the downturn, is doing well this year.

The business off Dawsonville Highway has sold 41 boats in the past 12 days.

"The big problem last year was not only the economy but accessibility to the lake," said Brent Danneman, general manager. "(There are) 113 boating ramps and about 90 of them were closed. Today, all of the ramps are open.

"The lake is at a perfect height. If it gets any higher, you lose all the beautiful, sandy beaches. It’s excellent for boating."

Len Jernigan, general manager of Aqualand Marina in South Hall, said he had a customer recently tell him he couldn’t sell his boat, but since the lake is up and fuel prices are down, he might as well take it out on the lake.

"I’m like, ‘Yes, let’s put some gas in the boat,’" Jernigan said, laughing.

"The atmosphere, the environment, the mood is extremely positive," he added. "Our self-service yard, where people can work on their boats themselves or hire a contractor to come in, is practically full."

The marina has developed a plan of moving and extending docks to keep them protected and boaters safe during a drought.

"That’s still in place now, because nobody knows what the lake is going to do this fall or winter," Jernigan said.

Doug Youngblood, a professional fishing guide since 1985, said business has been OK, "not what it normally is, but springtime is pretty busy."

His Dacula-based business is usually booked two to three months in advance.

"I’m probably booked a month out right now," Youngblood said. "A lot of corporate business is off — we do a lot of corporate outings. This is play money, going and doing what we provide."

Still, "things should be better this summer, with the lake up," he said.

"All the ramps are open — that’s a big thing. You’d go to a ramp last year and (it was) full at 10 a.m."

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