In the coming months, millions are expected to visit Lake Allatoona, as well as Lake Acworth, which feeds into the larger body.
So far this year, Eric Williams, owner of the Holiday Harbor Marina and Resort in Acworth, said things are looking up from 2011, particularly when it comes to boating. Gas sales at his marina are up 43 percent over last year, while overall profits are up by one-third.
Williams is hoping for a record year at the lake.
“I would say this compares well with before the economic downturn, possibly a little bit better,” said Williams, who has owned the marina located just north of Interstate 75 for 12 years.
Another strong indicator is the boat service business, which Williams said is up more than 200 percent from 2011.
He attributes much of the early success to warmer temperatures in the spring, though cooler and rainy weather hampered things a bit in April.
“I think people are ready to get back out and spend money again,” he said. “We’ve had several really bad years.”
Williams said that, based on discussions with other marinas, they appear to be doing better as well.
“It does seem to be across the board,” he said.
As of Friday morning, Lake Allatoona had a water elevation of 840.73 feet above sea level, just above its full pool elevation of 840 feet, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the lake.
Corps Ranger Stephen Cain said he has noticed a pickup in visitors this year. But Lake Allatoona is always among the Corps’ busiest lakes, with 6 million to 7 million annual visitors.
“We have a similar number of visitors as Lake Lanier even though we’re one-third the size,” he said. “We’re a popular place.”
Sean Nicholl of Marietta, chairman and president of the Lake Allatoona Association, said he is concerned that the Corps could start its traditional lowering of the lake level before June, when it normally starts the long process of bringing the water down a total of 17 feet for flood protection purposes.
The Lake Allatoona Association is a nonprofit organization that promotes social events on the lake, along with erosion control and conservation. Its big event for the year is the Lake Allatoona Cleanup, which looks to draw 5,000 people on Sept. 22 to pick up along the shores of the lake, which will be exposed by then due to the decreased water level.
The organization also hosts events to help residents learn from the Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard, as well as a tour of the lake in August for the area’s congressmen and state lawmakers.
Nicholl said visitors can come for everything from bass fishing to wildlife-viewing to swimming, so looking out for everyone’s interest can be challenging.
“With 7 million people, there are probably 7 million ways of using it,” he said.
Many of those people come from Cobb County. Acworth Mayor Tommy Allegood said more than 200,000 people a year use the parks Acworth owns on Lake Acworth and operates for the Corps of Engineers on Lake Allatoona. On weekends, the city charges $5 per car to park in the parks, so the revenue can help fill city coffers.
“It has a very positive impact to the city, to our businesses and our residents because that translates to money that is given to our general fund,” he said.
Robert Morrison, chairman of the Lake Allatoona Preservation Authority, said his organization’s goal is to preserve and protect the lake. The preservation authority’s members are appointed by commissioners from the three counties that Lake Allatoona occupies: Bartow, Cherokee and Cobb.
The organization is concerned about runoff into the lake that can harm water quality. While a decrease in development because of the recent recession has helped curb some of the runoff, he still worries about the lake being overcrowded. Morrison said he can count 470 boats on the lake from the dock by his home near Canton on peak weekends, the first of which is Memorial Day.
“I think the lake is at capacity, and the number of boats is a sign of that,” he said.
With more people, Cain said boater safety is extra important. He warns against drinking and boating and encourages boaters to wear life jackets. He compares it to driving a car.
“If something goes wrong, it’s too late to put on your seatbelt,” he said. “It’s the same thing with a life jacket.”