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Lake Lanier report shows 800,000 visitors lost
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By the numbers
  • Total visits to Lake Lanier were down 13.1 percent in federal fiscal 2008-09 compared to 1999-2000.
  • A reported drop in concession income earned by marinas from Oct. 1, 2006 to Sept. 30, 2008, a decrease of more than $400,000, confirms a decline in boating visits estimated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
  • Lake Lanier visitors spent $180.3 million in the region in 2006, with day visitors accounting for nearly 96 percent of total visits and 86 percent of total spending.

The number of May-September, or in-season, visitors to the Lake Lanier area dropped from 5 million in 2007 to 4.2 million in 2008, according to preliminary results of a regional economic impact study.

The study, commissioned by lake advocacy group 1071 Coalition, is expected to be completed by early spring.

“Most of us were not surprised to hear about the (decline in visitors), since we felt its impact with our declining businesses in 2008,” said Alex Laidlaw, 1071 Coalition president and vice president of Westrec Marinas. “However, we are still learning and anxiously await more data coming from the study that will paint the picture of just what the visitor decline means in terms of not only the economy of our businesses around the lake, but the economy of the region as a whole.”

Kit Dunlap, president/CEO of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said that when you combine low lake levels and high gas prices in the summer of 2008, “it’s no surprise we’re down” by 800,000.

“I think it’s more than that (number), from what I’ve counted up,” she added.

As far as dollar impact, “we’re looking at that,” Dunlap said. “We’re still trying to get two surveys done, one from businesses and one from residents.”

Between 2007 and 2008, the lake dropped by 17 feet from its summer full pool of 1,071 feet above sea level, the report also notes.

The coalition’s board of directors heard the preliminary results Tuesday from Atlanta-based Bleakly Advisory Group, which is conducting the study.

“Job losses from the recession really began to hit the region in the fourth quarter of 2008, after the (fiscal 2007-08) recreational season was over,” said Gary L. Mongeon, Bleakly vice president.

“The recession has thus had more of an impact on Lake Lanier in fiscal 2009 than 2008.”

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