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Drought can't wither recreation
Business on Lanier bustling despite worries over water
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Forsyth County's marinas and Lake Lanier merchants want to set the record straight. There is water in the lake and business is alive and well.

What stands in the way of business as usual has been a little more rain and perception.
"[People hear] that you can bring a camel up here and it'll have plenty of sand to walk on," said Jon Stovall, the general manager at Bald Ridge Marina.

"But that's not true. We've got 37,000 acres of water up here and we're ready to do business."

Stovall said the marina is writing its 600 tenants to say, "The water is great - we're just missing you here."

"It's really not right for people to have investments in their boats and feel like they can't use them," he said.

With school out for the summer, Stovall expects business to increase as word spreads that there is still plenty of water for recreation.

Candy Hammond, owner of Hammond's Fishing & Boat Storage in northeastern Forsyth, said business so far this year is about the same as 2007.

"We're very blessed to be doing so well," she said. "The ramp projects, I believe, helped a lot ... a lot of the open ramps are close to us."

Hammond led the effort this winter to raise money to extend three boat ramps at Charleston Park, which were previously unusable because of low water level.

Business may be comparable to last year, but the customer base has shifted further toward professional fishermen. Because pros pay close attention to lake levels, Hammond said, they are out in force. Casual fisherman and boaters may not be as well informed.

"For us, with fishing, it's as strong as before," she said. "We have a huge inventory of bait and tackle. But the only thing I'm selling less of is pleasure boat [supplies]."

Hammond said she thinks the problem is that people aren't coming to the lake "because they think there are no ramps open, but they are."

"It's still limited," she said. "It's not like it should be. There should normally be 103 lanes open - lanes, not parks - but now there are only 20 open."

Port Royale Marina, formerly known as Lanmar Marina, is running at 100 percent capacity on its marina slips and dry storage, said Brent Danneman, general manager.

One change he has noticed is the speed at which boaters are traveling. Boaters are going about half the speed, he said, noting boaters are traveling at a leisurely pace of just under 20 mph.

"The cost of fuel is more of a concern than low water," he said. "You see very little running at 45 miles per hour."
Use of the marina by professional fishermen, said Danneman, is as high as he's ever seen it.

"A lot of people we talk to say fishing is better on Lake Lanier than it's ever been."

Tourism, he said, is probably "minutely down, but nothing major."

"Our marina is full," he said. "It's hard to take recreation away from the American public."