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Lake level buoys hopes
Merchants, boaters celebrate turnaround
Lake WEB 1
Jonathan Junkins, left, and Tom Polen get ready to go out Tuesday on Lake Lanier. High lake levels are a welcome sign to local businesses and marinas as warmer weather approaches. - photo by Crystal Ledford

Tom Polen was eager to strip his boat’s cover and get her out on the water.

Like many boat owners, Polen is excited Lake Lanier is back to full pool after several years of drought and low water levels.

As of Wednesday, the lake stood at 1,071.3 feet above seas level, which is more than a foot above winter full pool and slightly higher than summer pool full of 1,071 feet.

“It’s awesome,” Polen said Tuesday night while readying his boat to leave Port Royale Marina in north Forsyth. “It’s much better because everything is more accessible … plus it helps the economy I think because with the water level up, more people are going to be out here and that helps businesses that have to have the lake to survive.”

That’s exactly what many lakeside businesses are hoping for.

Among them is Port Royale, which includes a marina, dry boat storage, boat rentals and Pelican Pete’s, a lakeside restaurant.

William Archer, vice president of boat rentals at the facility, said full pool and its associated “good publicity” is often a boon for businesses.

“I think it gives everyone the mindset, you know, of ‘go boating’ … and it’s such a positive story that everyone wants to come out,” he said.

“There are a lot of people on this lake who are part of the community and they really keep up with the status of the lake … so everybody’s rooting for a full lake.”

According to Archer, it often can take until Memorial Day before the lake even gets close to summer full pool.

The holiday is also when the boating seasons officially begins, though he’s hoping for crowds earlier this year.

“There really won’t be a ramp-up for the summer. It’ll just be here like that,” he said. “With the lake being up, there’s nothing to wait on. As soon as we get 80-degree weather, it’s here.”

Full pool is also good news for fishermen such as Eric Aldrich, a professional angler who’s also involved with marketing for the sport fishing industry.

Like Archer, Aldrich said the positive publicity of a full Lanier is a big draw.

“As sport anglers, we see more opportunities for us to do promotions when the lake is full because the publicity is not bad,” said Aldrich, whose weekly fishing column appears in the Forsyth County News. “Low lake levels bring bad publicity, although the fishing in some ways actually gets better.”

While he doesn’t work as a fishing guide, Aldrich said he has many friends who do, and higher lake levels almost always mean more business.

“They do book more trips when the lake’s full,” he said, noting that it’s also good for other merchants. “Of course, real estate comes back too. It’s hard to sell a house when you’re at the end of a cove that’s been dry for three years.”

Joanna Cloud, a north Forsyth resident who is executive director of the Lake Lanier Association, echoed those sentiments.

“I think the real estate sales, it’ll be a huge boon for them because … the houses just show so much better when the lake’s full,” she said. “Springtime is normally a big real estate season anyway, so I think we’re definitely heading into a good time for the local economy from a lake standpoint.”

According to Cloud, reaching the mark resulted from a combination of factors.

“We’ve been blessed with a lot of rain recently, but we’ve also done a really good job in terms of conservation efforts … that’s something that a lot of people have been working on and campaigning for very, very hard and I think little by little we’re seeing those returns come in,” she said.

Cloud and others who live on the lake are happy to have its natural beauty return.

“It just looks great, especially after the last several years when we’ve seen so much red shore line with the clay exposed,” she said. “To see it at full pool now as we head into the summer season is just really exciting.”

More importantly, however, Cloud noted the the security that full pool brings.

“When the lake’s down, there are a lot of safety concerns,” she said. “First of all, the boat ramps close and there are some places that you can’t even get your boat into when the lake is down.

“Then if you can get your boat into the lake, I know me personally, I don’t like to be out there in my boat when it’s low … because submerged objects get that much closer to the surface.”

Aldrich agreed.

“When it’s partially low, it exposes the trees that aren’t necessarily cut all the way down to 35 feet,” he said. “[Being at full pool] creates more surface area for boats to go around, so it expands the area that people use so it does increase safety factors and everything too. Lord knows we need that.”

Aldrich, like many others, is also crediting a higher power for a full lake.

“I’m excited about it and it’s a blessing,” he said. “It’s a boost to our economy and hopefully we’ll be able to keep it here a while.”