West Georgia Campground Business Recovering Nicely
Bill Coe was out of luck.
The Fayetteville, Ga., attorney and his wife had loaded up their canoe, hitched up their camper and headed south toward LaGrange, to West Point Lake's R. Shaefer Heard Campground, 60 miles southwest of Atlanta, looking for a spot to set up and enjoy this July weekend.
But campground attendant John Estes had to give him some bad news: The campground was full. In fact the campground has been filling up a lot this summer, not just on weekends but during the week, too. It used to get packed only on holiday weekends, but not this year, Estes said. With Georgia's disastrous 2007 drought having eased up over the past two years, lake water levels downstream of Atlanta have risen.
This year, those expectations, and the lake levels, have held up. Folks are swarming lakes and campgrounds, renting cabins and gassing up boats, according to the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer.
And some, such as Coe, are getting turned away.
"I'm afraid we're going to end up in a Wal-Mart parking lot," Coe said Friday (July 25) as he returned to his Ford and hit the road. At 10 a.m., he was the third visitor Estes turned away that day.
It was a joy for the attendant's wife and partner, Cindy Estes, to hear the next camper coming in say he had reservations.
"Oh hallelujah!" she said. "I hate to see a grown man cry."
John and Cindy Estes said their campers come from all around the region, from Troup County, Thomaston, Sharpsburg, Cataula and Columbus in Georgia and Auburn and Phenix City in Alabama.
They have some regulars who stay overnight while passing through, like a North Carolina contractor who stops on his way to Biloxi, Miss. He got one of the last sites available Friday. "We were afraid he wouldn't get here before everything was gone," Cindy Estes said.
Fishing guides, resort owners, park managers and tourism boosters all are singing the same happy song this summer: From West Point Lake to Lake Eufaula and on down to Lake Seminole, business seems to have rebounded – bouncing back from the punishing summer of 2007, when Georgia sank into a water crisis and lake levels plunged.
West Point Lake's water level, by elevation, dropped to about 621 feet. Normal summer pool is 635. Winter pool, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer prepares for winter rains and flood control, is 628.
Some docks were yards away from the receding waterline. Fish attractors, underwater structures designed to draw game fish, were high and dry, too. Business was awful, and news coverage of the drought, with the empty lake shore and grounded boats showing up on national TV, was a public relations nightmare.
"There was so much negative press that we tried to combat with positive stories, because even when the lake was 13 feet low, it still was 70 feet deep," said Danny Ellrich, who runs the Highland Marina Resort in LaGrange. "But people just quit coming because of all the bad press."