Back in season
Schedule for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
recreation areas on Lake Lanier
*Old Federal, Duckett Mill, Bolding Mill, Bald Ridge, Sawnee and Van Pugh South campgrounds are open April 11-Sept. 9
*Lower Pool East, Upper Overlook, Buford Dam and Lanier day-use parks are open Saturday-Sept. 23
*Beaches at Burton Mill, Robinson, Keith's Bridge and Long Hollow day-use parks are open Saturday-Sept. 23
*Beach and picnic shelter at Little Hall day-use park is open Saturday-Sept. 23
*Beach and campground at Toto Creek day-use park is open April 11-Sept. 9
*The rest of the corps' day-use parks are open year-round.
March 23, 2011: 1,070.60
Note: Winter full pool, which ends May 1, is 1,070 feet above sea level
Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Lake Lanier isn't as high as it was this time last year, entering the busy spring season, but it's steadily rising.
The North Georgia reservoir had a rough summer and fall, dropping to as low as 1,057.91 feet above sea level on Nov. 14, or nearly 12 feet below the winter full pool of 1,070 that ends May 1.
Then, winter rains set in. Lanier has rebounded to 1,065.51 feet and is expected to climb to 1,066.80 feet by April 21, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
And with winter ending on an unseasonably warm note, people have been returning sooner to lake recreational spots.
"We have noticed traffic picking up a little bit," said Sgt. Mike Burgamy, Lake Lanier supervisor with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. "We've already had one boating incident that (involved) a substantial injury.
"I anticipate, as the weather warms up and spring and summer get here fully, and as long as gas prices don't get too high, that (visitor numbers) will be picking up."
Traditionally, Lake Lanier is busiest between Memorial Day in May and Labor Day in September.
"We're getting prepared to hit the lake full force," Burgamy said.
When the lake had dropped below 1,060 feet, boating on the lake became a real hazard. Wide berths of exposed shoreline and tree stumps and sandbars poking through the water were common sights.
"The advice I would give (to boaters) is if you're unfamiliar with the lake, don't go faster than you're willing to hit something," Burgamy said in November.
At one point, Burgamy thought he would have to move the DNR's dock farther from the shore.
"That's not the case anymore. Water levels have come back, but we're still not where we need to be," he said.
"Some of the places that were hazardous are underwater now, but there are plenty of places out there that are still hazardous. Folks coming to the lake need to be aware of it."
The corps also is working to open up beaches and campgrounds around the lake, which has 692 miles of shoreline and borders Hall, Gwinnett, Forsyth and Dawson counties.
The campgrounds are set to open April 11. Many of the day-use parks are open year-round, but several are opening Saturday.
The corps normally makes off-season improvements to recreational sites, such as tent site fixes, and did so this year at Sawnee and Old Federal campgrounds, Ranger Brian Johnson said.
It also added some sites to Volunteer Village, an RV campground housing corps volunteers who work at parks and trails around Lake Lanier.
Preparations aside, visitors have been pouring into parks.
"Especially at Lower Pool and some of the other parks (near Buford Dam)," Johnson said. "... We lock the parks at 5 p.m., and a lot of the time, we have a hard time getting everybody out, especially on Sunday.
"It's picking up with the weather warming up, and we really didn't have a winter."
The number of annual visitors has risen over the past few years.
In fiscal 2009, Lake Lanier had 6.86 million visitors; 2010, 7.1 million; and 2011, 7.2 million. The federal fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.
In the current fiscal 2012, the lake has seen 1.34 million visitors.
Those numbers are recorded by traffic counters at the corps' recreational areas, Johnson said.