In May 29-June 4 issue
By Kim Graham
Times Journal ReporterABOVE: A pontoon boat is passed by three personal watercraft heading in the opposite direction on Lake Cumberland on Sunday afternoon.
LAKE CUMBERLAND - Despite all-time high gas prices, vacationers packed their cars and hit the road to kick off the summer travel season at Lake Cumberland. However, they apparently put the brakes on spending in order to stretch their vacation dollar.
"The weekend went a lot better than we thought," said James Flatt at Indian Hills Alligator II. "It really surprised me that we had that good a crowd."
He said Alligator II had several campers, filled all their cabins and rented all their pontoon boats but they didn't sell as much gas as usual.
Flatt noticed jet ski operators adjusted their consumption by coming in once a day to fuel instead of the 3 or 4 fill ups at the gas pumps in previous years.
"The numbers of people were here but gas sales were down," said Flatt.
Stunningly sunny weather seemed to forecast a change in the economic tide and some local businesses saw a much welcome increase from last year's tourism dive.
"We were tickled to death to see so many people show up," said Flatt. "It was a really good weekend."
"We just did very well for the weekend," said John Carter, Russell County Tourist Commission Director of Marketing.
At the State Dock, gas prices didn't appear to affect their business. In fact, the good weather and their In-Water Boat Show brought the boaters out in force.
"It was awesome. Unbelievable!" said Bill Jasper at the State Dock. "It was the best Memorial Day I've ever seen."
He said house boat rentals at the State Dock were as good as 2006 and the regular dock business was "over the top."
The State Dock restaurant staff was overwhelmed by the crowd and even ran out of some items, he said.
Though the visitors were numerous, even Jasper noticed many boaters gathering and floating on the lake and not "tearing up the water."
Recently, Jasper was named chairman of a new cooperative group called Lake Cumberland Association, Inc.
Carter said nine area marinas, Russell County, Russell County Tourist Commission and Somerset/Pulaski Tourist Commission combined forces to form the assemblage.
"We couldn't afford to do it by ourselves, so we got together to advertise," said Flatt.
The association produced a commercial aired in Ohio, Indiana and locally in Kentucky directing vacationers to their website promoting marinas, accommodations and local events.
"That's probably helped us quite a bit this year," Carter said. "The whole intent of this association is to drive more traffic to the lake."
While some had substantially increased business, others around the lake weren't as fortunate.
"Since we're in a new location, a lot of people came out of curiosity," said Ed Slusser at Cave Springs Marina, previously known as Alligator Dock #1.
Over the winter and spring, the marina was relocated from deep up Wolf Creek at the current headwaters of the lake, to a deepwater location near the mouth of Wolf Creek, just off the main lake.
He said their restaurant was busy but the gas company didn't get their gas pumps installed for the holiday weekend.
As a result, the steady flow of boats he saw in Wolf Creek on Saturday and Sunday passed by without refueling.
Still, he said this Memorial Day was better than last and the outlook seems better for the rest of the vacation season.
"We'll have gas installed by this weekend," Slusser said.
Rick Mercader at Grider Hill Dock said their Memorial Day business could have been worse but it could have been better.
"Our business this year was about 20 to 25 percent, but better than last year overall," said Mercader. "We had a good holiday crowd and we were well pleased with what we had."
Like many tourist dependent lake businesses, Grider Hill is looking forward to the rest of the summer.
For some, business looks slow until late June but reservations look good from then through the July 4th holiday.
"We still have plenty of water to play in at Lake Cumberland," Mercader said. "We're looking forward to a good 4th of July."