End of drought lifts Ga. boating industry

ATHENS, Ga. — Thanks to a wet spring that raised Georgia water levels after a three-year drought, the state's boating industry could get a boost despite this year's tough economy, according to local reports.

At Thurmond Lake on the Georgia/South Carolina border, lake levels are hovering at 326.7 — 5.4 feet higher than last year, according the Augusta Chronicle. In addition, all 33 boat ramps are open and usable. Last fall, at the height of the drought, more than half were not.

As a result, Thurmond Lake's visitation was 20 percent less in 2008 than 2007 — a reduction of 549,402 visitor days, the paper said. Water levels during the April-to-August recreation season averaged about seven feet lower over the same period.

Other Georgia lakes are measuring significantly higher this season as well.

"Lake Lanier is a huge boating area and has been very hard hit," Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, told the Athens Banner-Herald. "It's not back to level, but it's coming back."

Dammrich said lower gas prices will also help Georgia this year. And although he said he's not ready to declare the economic crisis resolved, he sees confidence moving back up.

"I've read where the housing market in 17 states is rising and economists say the gross domestic product will improve by the third quarter, so people are being a little more optimistic," he said. "I'm not sure I can say I'm enthused, but three months ago, we were wondering when things would bottom out. People are feeling better and we may just be at the bottom heading up now."

Jeff Maher, owner of Athens Marine in Bogart, echoed Dammrich's sentiment.

"I can't really complain about sales, although they could be better," he told the Banner-Herald. "Given the state of the economy, everything's going fine. In 2008, there was no water in the lakes, but now people are excited about relatively full lakes and they're also happy they're paying about $2 less for gas."

To read the full Banner-Herald report, click here.

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