Following winter storms that chilled the area into the beginning of March, rising temperatures have some western Kentucky businesses ready to see green in their registers as the spring tourism season approaches.
Marinel Larkin of Kentucky's Western Waterland, a nonprofit corporation representing 15 counties, said the area around Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake has seen an increase in tourism in recent years with lodging for tourists available in Marshall and Lyon counties, as well as at resorts at Grand Rivers in Livingston County.
Beau Choate, Lake Barkley Tourist Commission executive director, said it's important for warming temperatures to continue because bass tournaments will begin at the lake in the coming weeks, and low temperatures can decrease participation.
Choate said Lake Barkley hosts several fishing tournaments and is home to bass, Asian carp, crappie and catfish. Choate said some anglers will fish in any weather, but others prefer warmer temperatures, and many area businesses - including restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations and hardware stores - depend on those and other tourists.
"The economic impact is huge from our fishing tournaments alone," Choate said.
Q&M Watersports in Kuttawa provides boat sales, services and parts, as well as dockside service at Lake Barkley. Owner Amy Merrill said fishing tournaments bring in repair and service business from tourists and locals alike.
Merrill said Q&M also sees a lot of business from tourists staying for camping, boating and other water recreation in the warm months.
The cold weather has hurt sales, she said. Q&M would normally have sold several boats by this time of year, but the recent warmup is beginning to make a difference.
"Normally by now we would be just overboard busy, but the weather kind of dampened that," Merrill said.
She said the store saw several customers as temperatures rose following the most recent bout of winter weather. As conditions continue to warm, she expects the shop to be very busy and to sell some boats.
Marshall County Tourism Director Randy Newcomb said weather plays an important role in the tourism season in his county as well. In the spring, the county gets an influx of fishermen from Northern states trying to escape colder temperatures by visiting Kentucky Lake.
Newcomb said that, for the most part, fishermen stay longer than family vacationers, who visit for three or four days. Fishermen, he said, often stay five to 10 days, to the benefit of "basically, every business."
Larkin said fishing tourists often stay a week or two because they like to test the waters and fish in different places, and during those stays they spend a lot of money.
"When they come down, they love to fish, they love to eat," Newcomb said. "And they need a place to stay, and they need gas for their boat, so it benefits everyone."
In addition to fishing, Larkin said other draws for tourists are camping, hunting, recreational boating and other water sports, listing Green Turtle Bay and Lighthouse Landing - two resorts in Grand Rivers - as popular spots for recreational boating.
Camping and water sports aren't the only draw for spring tourism dollars in west Kentucky. Many Paducah businesses expect to see a major increase in foot traffic from AQS Quilt Week in April.
Melissa Abarca is manager of Quilt in a Day in Paducah. Abarca said most of the store's usual traffic is online. Quilt Week gives employees the chance to meet customers in person.
Abarca estimated that as a vendor at the quilt show she might see as many as 50 customers in 20 minutes.
The store also sees such an increase in traffic outside of the show, she said, that it has to temporarily expand, opening two warehouse locations. She said the Paducah quilt shop hired between 80 and 100 temporary employees to work AQS Quilt Week in 2013.
Abarca said AQS Quilt Week provides a boom in business for Paducah as a whole, and Quilt in a Day tries to cross-advertise for other local businesses to the quilters by providing coupons.
"We try to send as much business elsewhere as we bring in," she said.
Kirchhoff's Bakery and Deli is among the Paducah businesses that quilters seem to flock to. Co-owner Louis Kirchhoff said sales on a given day that week are probably triple that of a typical weekday and the business.
"We always look forward to it," Kirchhoff said. "We've made a number of friends with the quilters, and they keep coming back. So we make new friends and renew old ones. They're a good bunch."
Although Kirchhoff said the tourist season typically begins around the first of April, the break from winter weather has already had a positive impact at the bakery and deli.
"Business is picking up," Kirchhoff said. "We've had a terrible January and February. Been closed several times because of the snow, but that's just part of it ... so we look forward to getting back into the groove of things."
Contact Leanne Fuller, a Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8653.
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