Ga. lakes back for Memorial Day

Georgia's lakes have recovered from a three-year drought in time for abundant recreation over the Memorial Day weekend — if it only stops raining long enough for people to have fun.


The forecast for most of Georgia calls for cloudy skies and a chance of showers and thunderstorms for the next three days.

Lake Thurmond, along the Georgia-South Carolina line, is more than five feet higher than last Memorial Day after a wet spring in the Savannah River basin and elswhere in Georgia.

Although water levels are more favorable this year, boaters must continue to be cautious, said Georgia Wildlife Resources Division Col. Terry West, whose law enforcement officers will be out all weekend.

"Water levels certainly are better this year, which may remove some of the obstruction issues we had in the previous few years, but that does not mean that boaters should become less diligent," West said.

Last year, Georgia had 156 boating accidents and 18 boating fatalities. Conservation rangers made 215 boating under the influence arrests. This year, with more visitors likely to use state reservoirs, the numbers could increase.

Even Lake Lanier northeast of Atlanta, which a year ago was 18 feet below full, is expected to see large crowds this weekend.

Chris Arthur, chief ranger of park operations for the Army Corps of Engineers, anticipates about 300,000 visitors over the three days.

"There should be an onslaught," said Arthur, who has been at the lake 12 years.

Lanier is still about 5 feet below normal levels. That means some swimming areas are sandy beaches.

Kit Dunlap, a co-founder of the lake watchdog group called the 1071 Coalition, says the rising water level is good news for businesses in the area.

"It's helped everyone's attitude. It's nice to have some good news from Lake Lanier," said Dunlap, who also is president of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce in Gainesville. Hall County boasts the most shoreline of any county around the lake, more than 400 miles.

A 2001 study concluded that lake recreation was worth more than $5 billion annually to the region, Dunlap said.


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