The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 8, 2012

Grand Lake businesses hoping for 'banner year' in 2012

Natural disasters put a dent in number of visitors to lake last year

By Kevin McClintock

GROVE, Okla. — “The best in 16 years!”

That’s how Paul Staten summed up activity that took place this past Memorial Day weekend on Grand Lake.

“Everybody was ready to get back in the water and do something fun,” said Staten, owner of Landings Marina on Oklahoma Highway 125.

Warm temperatures and clear skies made for perfect lake conditions, he said.

Marina owners are ready to put the memory of 2011 behind them.

Last year, Grand Lake was hit by a number of natural disasters that quickly became economic disasters.

Between two snow storms within weeks of one another, parts of Grand Lake received more than 40 inches of snow. The weight of the packed snow caused millions of dollars in damages to marinas, private docks and boats around the lake.

Then, on May 22, just minutes before an EF-5 tornado tore through Joplin, Mo., an EF-2 tornado touched down southwest of Grove, damaging several homes. At 7:25 p.m., an EF-3 tornado touched ground southeast of Grove, damaging additional homes. In all, eight twisters ripped across Delaware County that night.

During the usually profitable Memorial Day weekend, 10 inches of rain fell across parts of the lake.

Then, just as lake business owners were looking forward to the Fourth of July weekend to recoup losses and entice lost revenue back to the lake, a bloom of toxic blue-green algae appeared in the lake water. The Grand River Dam Authority and state regulators issued a warning at the end of June for swimmers and boaters to avoid contact with lake water. That warning remained in effect through July 13.

Marina owners estimated they lost 30 to 40 percent in business in 2011 because of that.

“It was a tough year last year with lake business,” Staten said.

‘Really struggled’

Tad Jones, president of the Grand Lake Association, said that the weather and the blue-green algae scare took their toll in 2011.

“We don’t have a dollar-loss figure, but a lot of businesses really struggled last year from all those different things,” he said. “Dock builders are still working on some individual docks, but most of them are up and running at full strength.”

So far in 2012, there have been no blizzards, prolonged rainfalls, killer tornadoes or toxic algae blooms. Maybe temperatures are a little high for early June, but marina owners can certainly live with that.

“It’s a little bit hot for this time of year” but nobody is complaining, said Greg Crenshaw, owner of Willow Park Marina on the south end of Grand Lake in Ketchum Cove. “I’ve already noticed the number of people here picking up over last year.”

Lake enthusiasts are hitting marinas earlier than usual, too.

“I’m happy to see it,” Crenshaw said. “I really am. More traffic early is (a good sign). I think we’ll have a really good year.”

Jerry Gibbons, one of the owners of Honey Creek Landing Marina in south Grove, was even more enthusiastic about what he has seen so far this year.

“I’ll tell you what, during Memorial Day, (activity on the lake) was up 100 percent over last year. We had a marvelous weekend.”

When asked about the prospects of a good Fourth of July weekend, Gibbons said he was “cautiously optimistic.”

Banner year

A warm spring meant that lodges were booked up in February and March, which has had a “tremendous impact” so far, Jones said.

“Last year (at that time), people couldn’t even make it out,” he said.

“I think we’re going to have a banner year this year,” said Bruce Johnson, Grove’s city manager. “As a matter of fact, all the retail stores and marinas that I’ve talked to say that Memorial Day weekend was their best weekend ever.”

Kevin and Homer Booth, both of Goodman, also are glad 2011’s unpredictable weather was behind them.

The father and son duo were out on their boat near Sailboat Bridge on Tuesday. Homer steered the pontoon boat while his son tossed a net overboard. The fish they caught would later be used to bait catfish further out in the lake.

“We’re just happy to be fishing,” Kevin said.

Globe Enterprise Editor Scott Meeker contributed to this story.