Not even one year after a near-historic drought baked the area, a cold and rainy spring caused the boating season to start late in many places around the Heartland. The impact has seriously curtailed boating plans and slashed profits for marine businesses, bringing comments from “it’s been a lousy year so far” to “ pretty much a lost season.”
It was better or worse in various places, but almost no one we talked to said they had a great spring. Unusual weather produced record low-water levels on the Great Lakes and certain Texas reservoirs, record flooding on the Illinois River and repeated flooding on the Mississippi around the Fourth of July holiday. On the Erie Canal, huge debris fields kept workboats from inspecting dams, and a possible re-opening date wasn’t until at least mid-July, delaying the Loop for some boaters.
Mississippi Marinas Hit Hard
Probably the hardest hit were the marine businesses on the Mississippi River. By late June, water was above the flood stage in many places for the fourth time. At some locations, people needed secondary boats to get to their primary boats. Gas docks and pump outs were shut down, and boaters were advised to stay off the water due to strong currents and heavy bacteria.
Cindy Bisek at Red Wing Marina in Red Wing, Minn., said that spring “has been a challenge,” from snow in May to rain seemingly every other day. There was a lot of debris on Lake Pepin, and a more than two-foot rise in water levels was expected in the week preceding the big Water Ski Days festival in nearby Lake City. The main business at the marina there was pump outs, as people just sat on their boats at the dock.
At Island City Marina in Sabula, Iowa, owner Jerry Lawson said they only pumped about 200 gallons of gas over the Memorial Day weekend, down from their normal 500 to 600 gallons. Bluff Harbor Marina in Burlington, Iowa, went more than eight weeks without being able to get to some of their slips. Things finally seemed to be settling down as they headed into their major weekend, Steamboat Days in mid-June, but then they got 2.5 inches of rain that Saturday night.
“We haven’t had a spring,” said Jaime Aslin at Two Rivers Marina in Rockport, Ill. Late in June, many of their boats were still winterized, as flooding again saturated the area.
Although Port Charles Marina in St. Charles, Mo., had 18 inches of water in their office the first time it flooded — then another 31 inches later — they stayed busy with yard and mechanical work. Fortunately, they had a nice Fourth of July.
Eye on the Illinois
The Illinois River had record flooding in April, and during that time, seven barges broke free and damaged five sections of the Marseilles Dam. That affected the dam’s ability to help control the water level, which made a bad situation worse. One eventual result was that the Marseilles Elementary District 150 sued a barge company for $6.4 million in flood damage.
Ron Setina at Harborside Marina in Wilmington, Ill., said they had a very strong current for a while but were fortunate to not suffer any severe damage.
Spring Brook Marina in Seneca, Ill., was not so lucky. They had three feet of water in their office, forcing them to gut everything. They had earlier pulled many boats, and moved others, to safer locations. Then later, after things had calmed and were returning to normal, a river drawdown took their harbor depth to two feet, so they had to re-pull many of their boats for a second time.
Just below the Marseilles Lock, Heritage Harbor in Ottawa, Ill., sits on a high flood plain, so it accommodated a lot of boats looking for safety. But just downstream, Tom Novak at Starved Rock said their spring was “a disaster.” It took two and a half months to clean up from the April 17 flood, but a bigger problem was the number of boaters waiting for insurance settlements. Many insurers hired sub-contractors who were located far away, and they in turn hired surveyors to write reports. Those had to be sent to the sub-contractor and then back to the insurance company. As of late June, Novak felt it was “pretty much a lost season.”
Downstream in Peoria, Ill., Pat Ward at National Marine Sales said they ended up two months behind, with about 50 percent of the boats in the water at one location and only 20 percent at another.
Ohio River Reports
On the Ohio River, boating season has just recently started in some areas due to the long, cold, wet spring. There were many boats still not re-commissioned, sitting on the banks, while others were damaged from debris in the water.
Around Pittsburgh, Terry Grantz at BoatPittsburgh.com reported it was an odd spring with no real flooding but no long stretches of sunny weather to motivate people to get to their boats.
Another perspective comes from Gary Morton at Rayland Marina in Rayland, Ohio. He said they got hurt by “three months of February.” The wind and cold kept people from getting interested like they normally do.
Business really slowed at Dave’s Marine Service in Belpre, Ohio, because many boats were still on the hard, shrink wrapped, and hadn’t been re-commissioned yet.
The Huntington Yacht Club and Holderby’s Landing in Huntington, W.Va., had a 150-foot dock torn off, but they feel the biggest problem is not the weather but the economy.
There was also a lot of debris at Washington Marine LLC in Cincinnati, but overall business is now up and they are so busy they “don’t know if they are coming or going.” The question at Sea Ray of Cincinnati is whether they can re-coup the sales lost due to the earlier weather. Spokesman Ed Alf said, “ Call me in 60 days, and I’ll let you know how it worked out.”
The nasty weather meant Ron Kolb at Owensboro Marina in Owensboro, Ky., “couldn’t get anything done,” and boats were real slow coming out of storage.
Inland Marina in Evansville, Ind., noted nothing out of the ordinary for them, but the new owners at the Golconda Marina, Carrie and Doug DeVore, drove in snow to their opening day.
Seven barges broke free and damaged the Marseilles [Ill.] Dam.
Although locations on the Cumberland River report things are pretty normal now, the overall feeling is that the season got pushed back a month.
The Granville Marina in Granville, Tenn., said they were about six weeks behind because of the cold and wet weekends.
Everybody was waiting for next week, but next week came six weeks later said a representative at Anchor High Marina in Hendersonville, Tenn.
High water kept Rottgering Marine in Eddyville, Ky., on Lake Barkley, from using their boat lift for a week, but they were able to use their floating docks for some of the repairs they had scheduled. George Blair said discussions among area marina owners generally concluded there was about a one-month delay to the season.
The Tennessee and Tenn-Tom
Big issues on the Tennessee River were the cold temperatures, rain on the weekends and rarely getting two good days in a row. Water levels frequently fluctuated, as dams were raised and lowered to control the flow and the rising water repeatedly picked up lots of shore debris and flushed it downstream.
The Volunteer Landing Marina in Knoxville experienced a huge amount of debris and strong currents. Nearby Tellico Marine reported that, while they “didn’t get spring,” things ended up being about a month late.
“A terrible spring” is how Mike Fenton at Louisville Landing put it. “It’s been a lousy year so far.” His location also had a lot of trash in the water. He said they had good weather in March, but then it changed for the worse. A third of his dry storage boats weren’t commissioned at press time, which is “unheard of.”
At Chickamauga Marina in Chattanooga, Melanie Dean said all the rain put them “way behind the eight-ball.” But, she added, boaters have been taking advantage now and making up for lost time. Although the weather didn’t affect their sales much, MarineMax of Chattanooga had to close their downtown docks, and business there was off 75 percent early on.
The best news at Leatherwood Resort and Marina in Dover, Tenn., was that there was “fabulous fishing” after suffering through a period where it seemed to rain every Saturday or Sunday. Mike Romano at Kenlake Marina in Hardin, Tenn., concurred that the “crappie season is one of the best.”
Overall, the spring weather was not a big deal on the Tenn-Tombigbee Waterway, but there were a couple related issues.
Unseasonably cool temperatures and more rain than normal delayed the start of the season at Grand Harbor Marina at Pickwick Lake in Counce, Tenn., but the biggest factor at Midway Marina in Fulton, Miss., was that transients weren’t moving upstream due to the high water further north.
Fred Hansard at Demopolis Yacht Basin in Demopolis, Ala., said they had the normal rain and flooding and really had no problems.
Inland Lake Levels
A check of lakes and reservoirs at various places yields mixed results. On Lake Wawasee in northern Indiana, Doug Anderson at Wawasee Boat Sales reported a slow start but good water levels and plenty of service work. “Last year,” he said, “we couldn’t buy rain. This year, it seems like it rained every day.”
In southern Indiana at Patoka Lake, there were heavy spring rains but nothing serious. They also had some “good blows” but “just battened down the hatches.”
Lake Cumberland in southern Kentucky had unseasonably cool weather and got hit early with some strong storms. State Dock Marina reported 90-mile per hour winds that damaged some boats. Gary Peterson at Jamestown Marina said the weather hurt their business and left them “scrambling to get things done.”
The good news on that lake is that repairs to the Wolf Creek Dam are almost done, the pool level is good and the fishing forecast is very good due to the extra vegetation growth while the water was low.
The turnaround at Table Rock Lake State Park Marina in Missouri came around Memorial Day. They were off about 20 percent until then.
There was little winter in the Lake of the Ozarks until March, but then cool, wet weather delayed activities there also. Carolyn at Bergers Marina said their spring was “horrible,” with lots of rainy and windy days. They even had sleet the first weekend in May.
There was “not a whole lot of spring” on Dale Hollow Lake in Tennessee, according to Brad Richardson at Sunset Marina and Resort. Good days during the week gave way to bad weekends that kept business slow until around Memorial Day. Over the Fourth, they had about six inches of rain, pushing lake levels up three feet and limiting beaching locations for houseboats. “It’s the worst Fourth in the 17 years I’ve been here,” he said.
It was a similar story at Lake Martin in Alabama. Cold weather in March and April combined with heavy rain pushed the season opening back. Then, the Fourth of July was pretty well rained out.
Bull Shoals in Arkansas had some early rain that raised the pool level, but they are used to that according to the Lakeview Cove Marina. They also had some high wind with no serious damage.
Drought in Texas
Boating in Texas continues to be seriously affected by what is close to being declared a record-setting drought. Lake and reservoir levels in the state range measure as low as 1.19 percent full in some areas. And, unfortunately, spring rain came in the wrong places to help out.
In Del Rio on Lake Amistad, the National Park Service has posted warnings that current levels have produced dangers different from those even in 1998, when record low levels were reached. As of July 8, the recorded level fell below the 1998 number. Most launch ramps were closed, and marinas are constantly adjusting docks.
At Lakeway Marina on Lake Travis, near Austin, manager Jody Allen said the lake is 36 percent full but dropping about a foot a week. Launch ramps are closed, and some folks are launching from the shore in places. Boats in slips are able to go out. Allen said her outside clients are gone and business is down substantially. Without rain, the long term forecast is not good.
This year’s spring weather once again points out some similarities between boaters and farmers. The weather strongly affects both groups, and they tend to be troubled about similar things like too much water or not enough, temperatures that are too hot or too cold, or conditions that are too wet or too dry.
The only solution seems to be, like the Chicago Cubs, wait until next year.