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Business owners optimistic for summer with lake at full pool
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Justin Peterson prepares to gas up a boat Friday morning at the dock at Gainesville Marina as many boaters get an early start on the holiday weekend.

From his perch on a hill at the Gainesville Marina, Rick Skoglund has a clear view of Lake Lanier.

Whether looking out one of the windows on his restaurant’s screened-in porch or from behind his cash register, things look the same — pretty good, and getting better every day.

“We had a good year last year, but so far we’re doing even better than we did in 2007,” said Skoglund, owner of Skogie’s Waterfront Eatery off Dawsonville Highway.

The year 2007 is a significant one for many area businesses because it marks the year before the lake took a plunge for the worst due to drought conditions. In 2007, the lake was at just 4 feet below the summer full pool of 1,071 feet above sea level at Memorial Day, the traditional start of the summer season.

By the following Memorial Day, Lake Lanier had dropped to 1,056 feet — 15 feet below full pool. Last year, the lake was showing signs of recovery at 1,065 feet, but with the country in a recession, spending didn’t make the same rebound.

This year, with the lake hovering near 1,071 feet, some businesses are seeing signs of recovery.

“Even with the economy being the way that it is, I think we’re going to have a record year,” Skoglund said. “I think there’s a lot of pent-up energy as far as spending goes. I think people have been sitting back saving all winter and now want to get out and do something. That combined with the fact that a lot of boaters haven’t gotten out for a couple of years, they’ve just had their boats in storage — people are ready to have a good time.”

Gainesville isn’t the only area where business is booming.

“All of our advanced booking and everything is trending way up from last year,” said Grier Todd, CEO of Lake Lanier Islands in Buford.

“I think a lot of that can be attributed to the lake levels (being up) and because a lot of people are ready to get back out.”

After wrapping up three years worth of renovations and spending about $70 million, Lake Lanier Islands is ready to handle the anticipated crowds.

“We’ve got the new restaurant, Sunset Cove, that’s accessible by boat. We had the grand opening last weekend and the turnout was fantastic. We’re looking for big things from that venue,” Todd said. “And of course there’s the water park. That’s always a big attraction, especially for families. We’re really excited and looking forward to a great summer.”

Demand for vacation accommodations also are up across the board, officials said.

“It’s still early in the season, but we have very good indications that this is going to be a much better year,” said Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau. “When the Army Corps of Engineers released reservations for their campgrounds for the first 90 days of the season they sold out. That is an excellent indicator because that visitation spills over to area hotels, rental homes and other businesses. This should be a great year.”

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