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Rising gas prices not scaring off boaters
Marinas worrying more about water levels
Jake Williams prepares to fill up the tank of a boat at the gas dock of Aqualand Marina on Sunday. - photo by Tom Reed

FLOWERY BRANCH — On Sunday, boaters at Aqualand Marina were filling up gas tanks in their vessels at nearly a dollar more per gallon than gas stations on land.

But neither the price difference nor the fact that gas prices have been rising for weeks seemed to stem activity on this picturesque Easter at Lake Lanier.

“I’ve given up having headaches about gas prices. I’ve just got to go with it,” said Scott Hirschlein of Buford, fueling up his 23-foot craft. “It’s not going to stop me from doing what I like doing, that’s for sure.”

Rising gas prices have stoked worries about costs for all forms of travel, especially with spring break trips and summer vacations.

As high as they are on roadways, they’re frequently higher on the water.

“Distribution costs may have increased, as we’re seeing distribution costs increase, as a whole and as a result of high gas prices,” said Jessica Brady, a spokeswoman for AAA auto club in Tampa, Fla., on Monday.

“And retailers, in remote areas, where there is not a lot of competition, tend to have higher prices.”

Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention & Visitors Bureau, said she isn’t worried about rising prices’ impact on lake tourism.

“Boaters are going to boat, as we have seen with the beautiful, unseasonably warm weather we’ve had,” she said.

“When the desire is there, people prioritize. Instead of taking a family vacation, flying away somewhere for a vacation or driving to the Gulf Coast, they’re renting a boat on Lake Lanier and having a beach experience locally.

“It is expensive to buy fuel, to go anywhere, but when people have a priority for recreation, (boating on Lanier) is a good alternative to some of the choices that are out there.”

Dickson added, however, that “I think we may see less long-distance trolling of the lake and more anchoring (in) coves.”

Woodstock resident Stan Griffin, also at Aqualand on Sunday, said he figures on making some changes, given the higher prices, including “taking a couple less trips on the houseboat.”

Jeff Pilgrim, who lives in Flowery Branch, is trying out a brand new pontoon boat on Lanier.

Asked if he plans to back off launching the craft, he said, “Probably not. It never has before.”

Alex Laidlaw of Westrec Marinas, which operates Holiday and Sunrise Cove marinas on Lanier, noted that gas prices — and the economy in general — have been only part of the problem for marinas.

“Water levels ... are really going to be the critical thing,” he said. “That will be more critical, really, than the gas prices. I think gas prices are going to be what they are. People will still come out and use their boat, just a little differently.

“But if the water goes down significantly, we’re really going to be in dire straits.”

Lake Lanier’s elevation Monday evening was nearly 1,066 feet above sea level, or 4 feet below the winter full pool of 1,070 feet. The summer full pool, which begins May 1, is 1,071 feet.

Oil prices did fall Monday on news that the U.S. economy added just 120,000 jobs in March, or half as much as each of the previous three months. The slower pace of hiring is also raising concerns that growth in the economy and energy demand could weaken.

In the U.S., gas prices fell by about a penny over the weekend to $3.927 per gallon, according to AAA, Wright Express and the Oil Price Information Service. Experts still say that prices could peak this month between $4.25 and $4.35 per gallon.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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