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Merchants eye holiday momentum
Weekend ushers in summer
Port WEB 1
Christian Workman, right, and Will Bagwell inspect a rental boat Tuesday at Port Royale. Local marinas are preparing for a busy Memorial Day weekend, which kicks off the summer season. - photo by Autumn Vetter

It’s time for summer fun, and with the traditional start of the season over Memorial Day weekend, merchants are ready.

William Archer, vice president of boat rentals with Port Royale on Lake Lanier in northeastern Forsyth County, said he’s looking forward to a busy weekend.

“We’re showing signs for a good season to come,” he said. “We’re anticipating really good gas sales and rentals are really busy.

“Surprisingly, the thing we’ve seen that was most affected by the down economy was boat sales, and this year those are up 20 percent from last year.”

A bit farther south on Lanier, Joey Jones, manager of Marine Max, a boat dealership and service center at Bald Ridge Marina, echoed Archer’s sentiments.

“We’ve tripled our numbers to this point from last year,” Jones said. “We’re having a very, very good numbers year.”

Both men said Memorial Day is the official start of their busiest time of the year. The last day of the school year in Forsyth County is Friday and families are ready to get out on the water.

“Memorial Day’s exciting. The kids come out and buy tubes and have a good time,” Jones said. “The momentum is truly there for a great season.”

Archer said Memorial Day is typically one of the busiest of the year for summer recreational businesses.

“For us and every other seasonal business, Memorial Day is the hardest holiday because you’re not quite geared up and this is your first stab at a busy weekend,” he said. “You carry a pen and pad around with you to write down anything that’s not quite right.”

This year, however, has been a little different. He noted that unseasonably warm temperatures in spring drew people to the lake earlier than normal.

“We opened the restaurant in March and it hasn’t slowed down since,” he said. “We’ve been able to iron some of the wrinkles out that we normally would this weekend already.”

For families looking to spend the long weekend camping, Forsyth County’s Shady Grove Campground is ready.

Logan Thomas, communications coordinator for the county, said the campground, which offers 110 campsites and RV hookups, opened for the season in late March.

“Memorial Day is the busiest weekend of the season with July Fourth being the next busiest,” he said.

Thomas noted that like lake businesses, the campground likely will see higher than average numbers this year.

“The campsite rentals have been running higher than the last three years,” he said. “In April 2011, there were 643 rentals and in April 2012, there were 1,054.”

Similarly, Tracy Helms with the city of Cumming, said its Mary Alice Park will see many guests this weekend.

“It’s one of three busiest weekends of the year —  Memorial Day, July Fourth and Labor Day,” he said. “There’s so much turnover, we can’t really monitor how many people come to the park.”

He said Mary Alice is a day-use park, open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., but boat ramps are open 24 hours.

“People love to go have picnics, swim in the lake, things like that,” he said.

To Archer, perhaps the lone concern this summer is the level of Lanier, which as of Wednesday stood at 1,065.08 feet above sea level. That’s nearly 6 feet below full pool of 1,071 feet. This time last year, the lake was at 1,069.07 feet.

“The only thing I’m worried about is that the water levels are starting to go down pretty quickly, so we really need rain,” he said. “Back in ’08 that really affected us because it had gotten so low it was almost dangerous to be out here.

“We like to see it at full pool when the season starts, and this year of course, the season started early.”

As for Jones, he said the lake level doesn’t really impact his business, noting that he spent many years in North Carolina before coming to Forsyth about 15 years ago.

“In North Carolina sometimes there’s just 5 feet to boat in, so when you still have 100 feet of water [in Lake Lanier], there’s still plenty of water to boat in,” he said. “After being up there, you appreciate Lake Lanier even in drought times.”