Area marinas and businesses along Lake Texoma are preparing for the unofficial end of the season this weekend as final summer crowds gather for Labor Day travelers.
The three-day weekend— one of the three big holiday weekends — traditionally sees large crowds and traffic as vacationers try to get in one last trip before the end summer and the start of fall.
This year, many marinas and other businesses are expecting heavy crowds to arrive at the lake as a brief respite from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
"I think we will be totally fully and running over," said Karen Wootton, owner of Buncombe Creek Resort Marina in Kingston. "Everything is full. The lake looks perfect, and the weather is going to be fine."
Labor Day is the final of the three holidays that fall within the summer lake season. Traditionally these three holiday weekends have been the lifeblood for the marina season, but Wootton said this season has been unusual in that regard.
"They say the only time you make money is on the holidays, but this past year has been the busiest year we’ve had in 20 years," she said.
Crowds have remained consistently strong throughout the 2020 summer season, Wootton said, attributing it in part to the COVID-19 pandemic and a desire to get outside.
"I think it is because they have been stuck inside and wanted to go somewhere and they could get out on the water," she said. "I know all the marinas have said that they are booked."
Wootton said she has taken precautions ahead of the weekend by cleaning out many of the rental trailers two weeks ago. Those trailers have remained empty for the past two weeks as a precaution.
Another attraction that has taken steps to spread out crowds in Eisenhower State Park, which was closed for a nearly month at the beginning of the pandemic. Since then, the park has reopened under limited capacity with advanced bookings only.
"Traditionally what we see during a normal time without COVID is we are at capacity for camping and day-use and it looks like we are going to be pretty much the say way," said Eisenhower State Park Superintendent Amanda Parsons.
Currently the park is allowed to open at 25 percent capacity for overnight visitors. The capacity for day visitors are also heavily restricted. Parsons added.
In addition to the capacity restrictions, Parsons said some programs, including some equipment leading programs have been suspended.
"The reason we are not giving those out is because the cleaning standards we have have significantly increased right now and our staffing is limited right now.
Like Buncombe Creek, the state park has seen a busy summer season despite limited capacity, she said.
"It has been pretty consistently booked," Parsons said. "Saturdays and Sundays have very consistently been at capacity"
Sadler’s Big Mineral Resort, Marina and Campground is also expecting to be fully booked for the weekend.
With the crowds, however, representatives for the marina said they are taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by spacing out campers.
"We are doing social distancing and are renting out every other campsite. We are already fully booked except for one campsite," Big Mineral Manager Carla Turner said.
Turner said she expects the crowds to start arriving in greater numbers on Friday.
"Yesterday a couple came in, and a few more are coming in today," she said Thursday. "The rest are expected in tomorrow."
Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.