Langley – With the elevation of Grand Lake two foot higher than it has been during past Labor Day weekends, the 2015 holiday on the water was one of the most popular in many years. However, that is not just opinion; aerial boat counts, conducted by the Grand River Dam Authority over the weekend, tell the real story of the lake’s Labor Day popularity.
On Sunday, September 6, an aerial boat count conducted by the GRDA Ecosystems Management Department recorded 1,930 boats. That is the largest count recorded for an aerial survey event on Labor Day weekend since the department began the counts in 2009. Overall, the numbers throughout the long weekend show that Grand Lake was a very popular place to close out the “traditional” summer boating season.
“While there are always other factors to consider, like weather conditions or even gas prices, the number of boats we recorded during our Labor Day weekend counts were definitely at a high point compared to past years,” said GRDA Assistant General Manager/Chief of Law Enforcement and Lake Operations Brian Edwards. “We certainly believe the higher, safer lake elevation was a leading factor in bringing visitors to the lake.”
Around the water, area businesses also noticed the increases lake traffic. Along with Memorial Day and the July 4 holiday, Labor Day weekend is one of three summer weekends that typically brings the most customers into their establishments.
“I saw people that I don’t normally see. The business at the marina was at an all-time high,” said Cedar Port Marina Manager Jerry Cookson.
According to numbers from a recent economic impact study of GRDA, prepared by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, the Authority’s operations, including lake management, support $150 to $176 million in real disposable income in Oklahoma’s economy each year. Large holiday weekends on GRDA’s lakes, like Labor Day 2015, help generate those kinds of numbers in the area economies.
Last month, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved a GRDA request to deviate from the “normal” elevation for Grand Lake during the remainder of the 2015 summer boating season. That normal rule curve requires the lake to be lowered to 741 feet in mid-August, and held there through mid-October. However, with FERC’s approval, Grand was still at 743 feet on Labor Day and through mid-September.
In past years, the lower 741 feet elevation over the Labor Day holiday has caused problems for boaters, dock owners and marinas. In its request, GRDA stressed the safety problems caused by the lower elevation, as well as the negative impact on the area economy Labor Day weekend.
“The lake level sure made the boaters happier because of the ability to remove their boats from their lifts and the safety of the shallows,” said Cookson. “I didn’t hear of one shallow-water grounding.”
According to GRDA Chief Executive Officer Dan Sullivan, the positive effects of maintaining lake levels at near-normal conditions were evident over the Labor Day weekend.
“Not only is it a safety issue, and a lake access issue, but also an economic issue,” said Sullivan. “It is for all these reasons that GRDA continues to seek a long-term solution which would give us more operational control over the lake, while balancing all of the other stakeholder concerns of hydroelectric generation, flood control and recreation.”
Photo Above – Several boats and PWCs make their way across the waters of Grand Lake, near Pensacola Dam. This busy scene was repeated over the Labor Day weekend earlier this month, when the holiday drew a large number of visitors to the lake.