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Lakes area tourism posts strong year

BY LAUREN P. DUNCAN lduncan@paducahsun.com

With the final holiday weekend of the summer upon us, tourism leaders at Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley say 2014 has been a good year.

It's hard to estimate the number of tourists who have visited the lakes area, but hotel room tax revenues have come in higher than expected, said Randy Newcomb, executive director of the Kentucky Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The spring season brought in more visitors than the bureau anticipated, and summer has been close to projections. If there had not been mild temperatures in July, Newcomb said the lakes would have seen even more visitors. More people come when temperatures approach or exceed 90 degrees, he said.

Debi Dodd of the Lake Barkley Tourist Commission said the summer has likewise been busy for the Lyon County side of the lakes.

"It's been a very good summer. Mother Nature has been very good, and gas prices have helped," she said.

Dodd said even though July was cooler than most summers, the number of visitors to the tourism office has shown there are more people visiting Lake Barkley. Earlier this summer, she said, the Lake Barkley Tourist Commission set a record for the most visitors coming into the office during one day. On Thursday, visitors from France stopped in before the holiday weekend started.

Weekly fishing tournaments on the lakes have been busy, and the parking lot at the Kuttawa Harbor Marina has been packed most weekends.

Dodd noted that the tourism season still has many weeks to go. She's hoping for a long fall season and a successful turnout at the October Renegade Bass Tournament at the lakes.

"There's more to come. We never shut our doors," she said.

Lakes area businesses make most of their revenue from March through October. Both Memorial Day and the Fourth of July brought in large crowds this year, and Newcomb said Labor Day weekend may even be busier with the arts and crafts festival in Grand Rivers.

"It gives people something to do other than the lake," he said.

Camping, boating and fishing aren't the only attractions. Newcomb said this summer there has been an increase in activities such as kayaking and paddle boarding.

An addition to a local amusement park has also drawn visitors.

Kentucky Shores, located on U.S. 641 in Gilbertsville, is home to zip-line tours. This summer, the park opened the Hurricane, described by Newcomb as a "human slingshot."

Tom Erwin, who co-owns Kentucky Shores with George Rexroad, said the ride entails "a little bit of hang gliding, a little bit of bungee jumping and a little bit of skydiving."

The 11-story swing can seat up to three people at a time and has been a hit this summer, according to Erwin. He said the ride normally closes at 10 p.m., but sometimes the park will stay open an extra hour to accommodate visitors.

Erwin said Kentucky Shores had a slow spring but this summer has been its best season yet. That may be a result of the business' focus on making its park a fun experience that's more than just go-carts and the Hurricane. He said there has been a focus on investing in employees by making the work environment energetic.

"We're not a Six Flags, but we feel like people who go away want to come back not just because of the attractions but because of how they were treated here," he said.

Contact Lauren Duncan, Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8692 or follow @laurenpduncan on Twitter.

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