Be careful what you wish for?
Lake Lanier is full and beautiful this year, but the rain that has kept it so robust has beat down visitation numbers to less than half of previous years, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, going into the Labor Day holiday weekend.
Even before hard numbers were available, boats on the lake have been notably absent, and rain on some particularly important weeks had a huge impact, said Stacey Dickson, President of the Lake Lanier Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“It’s too soon to have any quantifiable data for the season at this point. We know definitely we’ve had an impact, especially from the week of the Fourth of July. It rained all week, so that certainly impacted our summer season,” Dickson said.
Dickson said many Gulf Coast destinations caught in similar weather patterns had negative visitation impact similar to that of Lake Lanier.
“It’s gorgeous, it’s almost too full now — we have to be careful what we pray for!” she said.
The impromptu beaches caused by low levels has created opportunities for some lake visitors, she said.
“A lot of the lake users, because of the levels being down for several years, it sort of created these impromptu beaches on the islands and at the shoreline and public areas where they could beach their boat, or anchor and swim to a beach,” she said. “And now with the lake levels up so high, all those are gone, so that has impacted use on pretty days as well.”
Regardless, a full pool is something to be grateful for, she said.
“But overall, the lake is much safer with more water in it because there’s less boating hazards,” she said.
Dickson said other areas of the economy have benefited from people’s inclination to stay inside because of the weather.
“There’s a trade-off for locals that are in the area that would’ve normally been on the lake, but the rain kept them off the lake,” she said. “Then they’ve done other activities — indoor attractions, and restaurants, more retail shopping.”
Philip Burton, president of Gainesville Marina, said business has been affected, but overall the marina has weathered the season reasonably well.
“Well, it’s certainly had its uniqueness with all the rainfall and less-than-normal temperatures. We haven’t had those 90- and 100-degree days, either. It certainly has been unique,” he said. “We’ve been blessed with a lot of water and high lake levels all year, but it has impacted usage on weekends, traffic usage and gasoline sales. Otherwise, we’ve been pretty fortunate in most of our other departments — storage, and rental and service and sales.”
He said recovery from the recession had revenues creeping up, and businesses hoping for those same increases were disappointed.
“I think probably what we were all hoping for was that a 10, 15 percent increase that we’ve been seeing the last couple of years, prior to this year. We were sort of banking on that same trend, and we’re sort of having to live more with status quo,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a doubt in my mind, if we had had that weather we love to have, we’d have had that growth.”
“It’s feast or famine,” he added.
Burton is hoping for a respite from the rain for the Labor Day weekend, the last big summer holiday.
“We’re hoping for a big weekend. Almost all our boats, we’re pretty much 100 percent booked out for the holiday weekend,” he said.
Brian Teeters agreed. The rentals manager at Port Royale Marina on Brown’s Bridge Road said that expectations are high for Labor Day, typically the slowest of summer holidays.
“Given all of the rain we’ve had this entire summer, we’re expecting it to be a big weekend,” Teeters said. “Everybody that wasn’t able to get out on the Fourth will hopefully be able to get out here this weekend.”
The National Weather Service is calling for a 50 percent chance of rain through Monday.
And while some see Labor Day as the close of summer, there’s plenty of others who continue to enjoy Lanier well after the holiday.
“If the weather cooperates and stays (dry and warm) … we’ll be busy on the weekends through the end of September and maybe even October,” Teeters said.
Dickson said she’s heard that sort of feedback from Lake meet up groups, which the bureau keeps tabs with.
“As long as the weather permits and the water stays warm enough, everybody’s going to keep going out on the water as long as they possibly can since summer was kind of a no-go this year,” Dickson said.
Times regional staff writer Crystal Ledford contributed to this report.