July 28, 2008

Odessa Boasts Numerous Boats Despite Its Lack of Lakes

By Daniel Skolfield, Odessa American, Texas

Jul. 27--Dry, dusty air and scorching heat have always been powerful ingredients in the thirst for cool, refreshing water.

And with all of the boats parked around Odessa homes, you'd think some people were seeing a mirage in the distant desert sand -- they're not.

Instead, fun-seeking Odessans continue a historic trend that puts thousands of watercraft in an area with absolutely no recreational boating water -- specifically Ector County.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife reported in June that Ector County had a total of 3,770 registered watercraft.

The number comes as no surprise to Odessa Convention and Visitors Bureau director Linda Sweatt, who like many other Odessans, has heard of Ector County's boating infatuation, whether it's proven fact or folklore.

"They've said, at one time during the oil boom, that there were more boats in the county than any other because everyone was buying them -- but that's just hearsay; it's nothing substantiated," she said.

Dennis Dean Salyards, owner of Dean's Marine, believes the longtime legend with a slightly different twist: that, at one time, Ector County residents owned the most boats per capita in the state.

"That happened back in the early oil boom, probably about '78 or '79," he said.

Despite the changing tides of economic sway, boating in West Texas still remain a popular activity for family recreation activity -- even if it means a two- or three-hour drive to get there.

Dillon DeCair, 15, said his family of four hits the water pretty often in their $30,000 Ranger fish and ski boat. Whether they're skiing, wakeboarding or working on a summer tan, Dillon said the entire family participates in weekend trips to the water, most recently Amistad Reservoir.

"We go pretty frequently," he said. "A lot of people here like the water ... I always take friends."

It's family togetherness that makes water recreation so appealing, Salyards said.

With new boats ranging from $15,000 to $50,000, the cost is comparable to other recreational activities, especially with 15-year financing available.

"What are you going to do with the family on the weekend? Daddy goes golfing, but the kids aren't into that, so they go to the movies and mom goes shopping. But why do that when they can go to the lake together?" Salyards said. "There's really not a lot of family recreation opportunities here."

The boat dealer said he's seen an increase in watercraft sales over the past two years, but it's apples and oranges compared to the late '70s rush for a boat. Still, Salyards finds an advantage to the desert by selling away from the lake and helping customers find the perfect craft to match their activity.

"It really depends on how you'll use it," he said. "Most people have an idea of what they want."

Even with gas prices teetering around $4 a gallon, Odessa boaters continue their watery getaway -- just maybe with a different destination.

"(Gas prices) have affected us a little, because instead of going to Lake Amistad, we've been going to a few others like Nasworthy," Dillon said.

Lori Coleman said gas prices haven't stopped her husband from hauling his bass boat to water near Rio Hondo, east of Harlingen, while visiting family.

"My husband goes fishing or takes the kids out -- they love it," she said.

Meagan Brunette, 17, said her mom and stepdad went to the Midessa Boat and RV Show last year and surprised the family with a new boat: a Yamaha SX210 twin-engine bowrider.

"They just brought it home one day, and there was this boat in the driveway," she said.

Meagan said the family of four went to Lake Colorado City several times last year but hasn't been out this summer due to repairs required from lack of winterization. She looks forward to getting back on the lake.

"We ski, we have a wakeboard and inner tubes -- we go camping a lot, and we take the boat with us," she said. "It's a lot of fun ... someday I want to move somewhere where there's more water."


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Copyright (c) 2008, Odessa American, Texas

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