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Boaters gear up for Memorial Day weekend

Boating business owners around the country are hoping Memorial Day weekend — the traditional start of boating season — will be the beginning of a profitable summer.

In central Illinois, marinas along the Illinois River are readying for a busy weekend.

“We've seen a tremendous number of boats going in the water the last two weeks,” EastPort Marina harbormaster Michael Childers told The Journal Star newspaper. “I see it coming back slowly. We've probably sold seven or eight new slips this year.”

There’s also been recent activity at National Marine, a boat shop and marina in Peoria Heights, owner Patrick Ward said.

“Since we came through the [wet spring], we've 'dumped' 30 boats, with another 30 to go," he said, referring to plans to put customers' boats in the water.

“We're moving forward. When we had that week of 80-degree weather in March we were wall-to-wall with people. Then it died down. But in the last five to seven days we've had people looking at new boats.”

It’s the same story in Tennessee, where Elm Hill Marina has every boat rented and about 80 percent of its boat slips are taken.

The recent spike in gas prices could even lead to more traffic on Percy Priest Lake, with people reluctant to take long car trips. “If they can’t take a huge vacation, people are going to rent boats,” office manager Mandy Reilly told the Tennessean newspaper.

Area lakes, such as Old Hickory and J. Percy Priest, should see big crowds this weekend, with officials expecting a 50 percent spike in boaters, compared with the average weekend.

The National Park Service estimates that there will be 150,000 to 180,000 visitors at Nevada’s Lake Mead during the three-day weekend, on par with the number the lake had last year.

“We are gearing up for our biggest weekend of the summer,” park service spokesman Andrew Munoz said.

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