August 18, 2008

Visits Drop at Arkabutla Lake — Attendance at DeSoto County’s Most Popular Tourist Stop Lags Behind ’07 Numbers

By William C Bayne

High water, drought and unseasonably hot weather have hurt visitation at Arkabutla Lake, but it remains DeSoto County's largest tourist attraction.

"We had high water that closed all of our beaches for Memorial Day this year, and the drought last year brought low water that also hurt attendance," said Ernie Lentz, natural resources director for the lake and its surrounding park area.

The park drew a total of 1,579,590 in 2007, a drop from 2006's 1,608,863.

Figures for both years, however, were down about 20 percent from the late 1990s when the park annually drew 2 million or more.

And Lentz said visitation this year is running 120,312 behind the numbers for 2007.

"Our visitation for the July 4 weekend - normally one of our biggest weekends of the year - was way down this year to what it had been in prior years," he said.

Preliminary figures showed the Independence Day weekend attendance at about 13,000, compared to a "normal" July 4 weekend of about 23,000. That's a drop of 43 percent.

Most of the decreases have been noted among day-use visitors - mainly local and regional people who come to the park for picnicking, swimming, boating and fishing.

He said he did not believe that people who regularly visited Arkabutla in the past have shifted to Sardis or Enid lakes, the other two Corps of Engineers lakes in Northwest Mississippi.

"Most of the visitors to any one of the three lakes came to that lake for a specific reason," he said. "We had our regular visitors, just as Sardis and Enid had their regulars."

While day use visits have dropped off, "Our campers have remained strong," he said.

Lentz said he expects a huge crowd for the Labor Day weekend, provided that park employees can get the biggest beach area open in time.

"We only had two of our three beaches open July 4, but we're working on the largest beach area, the South Abutment beach, and if we get that open, we believe we'll have a big crowd there.

"The Labor Day holiday is traditionally the last summer blow out. It's the last big holiday of the summer and we expect a lot of people to come down and enjoy what the park has to offer."

He said favorable weather during the fall months could bring good crowds, but probably not enough to catch up with 2007 attendance.

- William C. Bayne: (662) 996-1408

Originally published by William C. Bayne [email protected] .

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