And while it’s still early in the season, Chrissy Alford, recreation chief ranger at J. Strom Thurmond Dam & Lake, has already noticed a difference.
“We’ve definitely had a lot of visitation compared to last year,” Alford said. “In May alone the numbers are up 20 percent.”
Alford attributed the uptick in visitors to the warm weather and the fact that the lake is sitting at full pool.
More than 70 miles upriver, Scott Kelley, natural resource program manager at Hartwell Dam and Lake, has a similar experience.
“It’s been really busy thus far,” Kelley said. “Weekend traffic has been heavy. Campgrounds and day-use areas seem busier than normal.”
And as if the prime conditions weren’t enough, special events at the recreation areas will give the public more reasons to enjoy the outdoors.
At Hartwell next week, June 27 from 8-10 p.m., the Hart County Chamber of Commerce will host a Pre-Fourth of July celebration at Big Oaks, which will include a fireworks display, along with myriad vendors selling everything from shave ice to barbecue to boiled peanuts.
Meanwhile, three Fourth of July events are in the works at Thurmond.
Thurmond Lake Sail & Power Squadron is planning a boat parade and beach party for July 4. The event will start at Dorn Fishing Facility, continue to Plum Branch Yacht Club, and finish at Savannah Lakes Marina Beach with a beach party. Smaller events at Thomson Boat Club, July 3, and Soap Creek Marina, July 11, are still in the planning phases.
Alford also said she and her team at Thurmond are starting to gear up for National Public Lands Day, held annually the last Saturday in September. On this day, volunteers focus on service projects to beautify a designated area in a park.
Last year, Alford said more than 200 people sanded picnic tables, trimmed underbrush and picked up litter at Thurmond’s West Dam Recreation Area.
With all the fun in the sun, though, officials are reminding the public to enjoy the outdoors safely.
In February, Hartwell recorded one recreation-related fatality while four drownings at Thurmond stunned park employees and visitors before the midpoint of the recreation season.
Wearing properly sized lifejackets can thwart these preventable deaths, said Corps National Water Safety Program Manager Pam J. Doty.
“Guests should make sure life jackets are buckled and sized properly,” Doty said. “Children should not wear life jackets that are too large because it will slip over their head if they fall in the water and they could drown. Life jackets are categorized by a person’s weight, so check the label and test it to make sure it fits snug.”
David Quebedeaux, a Corps park ranger at Thurmond, has already responded to several water-related accidents this year.
“We retrieved a couple of guys out of the lake who were lucky,” he said. “They didn’t have their life jackets on, but they were able to grab them as the boat was capsizing. They admitted if they did not have those life jackets, they would’ve drowned.”
At all Savannah Corps lake sites, visitors swim at their own risk. The Corps encourages adults to watch children because most people drown within 10 feet of safety.
If scorching temperatures continue through the summer, finding resourceful ways to beat the heat will be as important as remaining safe while in the water.
Stay hydrated by drinking cool water, wear lightweight, light-colored and loose-fitting clothing, apply sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher, and limit outdoor activity to morning and evening hours. When camping, swimming or lounging at your favorite day-use area, find shady areas to cool-off, rest and recharge.
For the full scoop on upcoming events, contact the recreation area’s visitor center: Hartwell, J. Strom Thurmond, and Richard B. Russell. Find more heat safety tips at the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention website.
Editor’s Note: Chelsea Smith contributed reporting.
~Jeremy S. Buddemeier, Corporate Communications Office