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Rain not slowing down Lake Lanier business
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Despite recent bouts of heavy rain, Tony Jonovitch, owner of Skogie’s Lakefront Restaurant, has not seen a negative impact on business because of the weather. - photo by David Barnes

High water and a cautious U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has closed many of its beaches, boat ramps and parks around the swollen lake, aren’t slowing down the start of Lake Lanier’s busy season.

With the lake still sitting at almost 1,074.4 feet above sea level, Lake Lanier is the highest it’s been going into summer for the past five years. Four weeks of rain pushed the lake up another 3 feet between May 15 and June 5, and more rain might be coming this weekend and next week.

Gainesville has received 1.66 inches of rain so far in June based on measurements taken at the Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport, said National Weather Service meteorologist Nikole Listemaa. In May, the city received 9.01 inches of rain.

Local figures will vary given the intensity of small storms passing over the area. Flowery Branch caught the brunt of a storm overnight between Thursday and Friday, when several inches of rain fell on the town, destroying a Cantrell Road culvert.

Rain is in the forecast this weekend. Between Friday and June 12, another three-quarters of a inch of rain could be coming to Gainesville, according to Listemaa.

But the rain isn’t making too much of a dent in lakeside dining, at least.

Margaritaville at Lanier Islands is open for business and is running margarita and wine cruises from its docks at the south end of the lake. Up north in Gainesville, one restaurant owner said he’s seeing a solid start to his busy season this year.

“I think a lot of people are antsy to get out on the lake after a cold winter, and we’ve definitely seen — at least the initial part of the season — an uptick,” said Tony Jonovitch, the owner of Skogie’s Lakefront Restaurant at the Gainesville Marina.

It’s not that the rain isn’t having an effect, he said. Being the most northern restaurant on the lake means that the boating customers from the south who might otherwise visit won’t make the trip on a rainy day.

“It doesn’t help us, that’s for sure,” Jonovitch said.

But there is one upside to the rain: With the lake level 3 feet above full summer pool, all of the homes around the lake have floating docks and boat access.

“I think a lot of people who were landlocked are really out and about and making a go of it,” he said. “The only negative I get is people saying, ‘I can’t park my boat on any islands because there are no beaches left.’”

Skogie’s is one of a handful of restaurants with dock access around Lake Lanier, but it’s one of the busiest for vehicle traffic because of its connection to Dawsonville Highway.

While the private industry is making the best of a wet start to summer, the Army Corps is being cautious with its facilities around Lake Lanier.

As rain hit its peak close to Memorial Day, when the remnants of Subtropical Storm Alberto from the Gulf of Mexico was passing over the Chattahoochee River basin, the Army Corps flipped the switch on its high water management plan — draining water from Buford Dam 24 hours a day, warning downriver residents about strong flows and closing many public facilities around the lake.

The corps is maintaining a live map of closed facilities around the lake on its website. As of Tuesday, June 5, most of those areas closed were beaches, while most boat ramps and parks were open around the lake.

The north end of the lake is especially clear, according to the map, as swimming areas and boat ramps near Thompson Bridge Road and Dawsonville Highway were reopened on Tuesday.

But the Army Corps cautioned visitors to the lake that some beaches might be closed even after water recedes.

“There might be damage to beaches,” said Nicholas Baggett, natural resource manager for the Army Corps on Lake Lanier. “These beaches are not natural — they’re man-made beaches. We have to haul sand into the beach area, so some may not need sand and others might.”

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Access to boat docks at Little Hall Park is blocked off in Gainesville on Tuesday, June 5, 2018, due to high water levels. The Army Corps of Engineers has closed several beaches and boat ramps around Lake Lanier because of rising water. - photo by David Barnes
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