Today marks the unofficial end of a summer that has Lake Lanier visitors, businesses and tourism watchers wishing they could bottle for future years.
“It has been perfect,” said Jeanne Stovall, relaxing on a float in the water Friday at Hall County’s River Forks Park & Campground.
Since Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer, rainfall has been scarce, except in doses brought by the occasional storm. Mostly, though, conditions have been sunny and warm, frequently not humid.
Compare that to last summer, when rain fell nearly every day, including 14 inches in July alone.
Summer 2014 “has been a complete turnaround,” said Bradley Carl Anderholm, chief operating officer at Lake Lanier Islands Resort in South Hall. “It rained every weekend day last year and we’ve had beautiful, sunny weather almost every weekend this year.”
Anderholm added: “We probably were up 40 to 60 percent in attendance.”
Husein Khimani, general manager/owner of the Holiday Inn Express of Ga. 347, said he believes a combination of weather, an improving economy and hotel rebranding — the Holiday Inn was formerly a Comfort Inn — has helped draw more customers this summer.
“I’ve seen a tremendous pickup,” said Khimani, who also serves as chairman of the Lake Lanier Convention & Visitors Bureau board. “We’re doing a lot better than last year — probably close to 20 percent.”
Stacey Dickson, the CVB’s president, said that with a sunny summer, “it’s been a challenge having enough hotel rooms on busy summer weekends.
“(That’s) a nice problem to have, compared to last year.”
Visitation “is up across the board, with inquiries for lake-related activities at an all-time high,” Dickson said. “Our website received more hits and page views in the past three months than it did all of last year.”
The Army Corps of Engineers “is restructuring its visitation reporting system nationwide,” so data for 2013 and 2014 are not available, said Ranger Mark Jennings, who also serves as volunteer coordinator.
In the past, the agency has estimated the lake receives about 7.5 million visitors annually. Around Labor Day 2012, the corps said 6.5 million people had visited Lanier so far that year.
Before last year’s heavy rainfall, the lake was affected by drought and an economy still reeling from the 2007-09 Great Recession.
“Anecdotally, this year has been more normal,” Jennings said. “The previous two years, visitation was down. This year, we’ve been right on track with previous years. The parks have been really busy.”
Joanna Cloud, executive director of the Gainesville-based Lake Lanier Association, said people “are all very happy to have a full lake this summer and beautiful weather.”
“Yes, it was a little crowded at times but, overall, given the volume of people enjoying the lake, we really had very few issues.”
The number of incidents on the lake involving law enforcement January through August showed few spikes, compared to the same period the past few years, according to Georgia Department of Natural Resources data.
There have been eight drownings, compared to four in 2012 and 2013. And one bright spot is there have been fewer boating accidents this summer than in the previous four.
“We would like to see less (incidents overall), but considering the better weather this year over last year, and that the rangers reported generally more boats on the lake than last year, we are pleased that numbers only went up slightly,” said Mark McKinnon, spokesman for the DNR’s Law Enforcement Division.
Meanwhile, Labor Day is just another day for avid campers, such as Shane and Jessica Hewatt of Oakwood, who frequent Lake Lanier.
They found a scenic spot on Friday at River Forks, which is off Browns Bridge Road in West Hall, with longtime friends Chris and Stephanie Hunnicutt of Jefferson. Both couples have two children, their ages ranging from 2 to 5.
“I grew up camping here and it was some of the greatest family time that I remember,” Shane Hewatt said.