The plaza on the lake lies empty. Canoes and kayaks rest on racks. The rowers aren’t coming. There are no sunbathers on the sand. But, on sunny weekends, the boat ramp is packed. Lake Lanier Olympic Park, usually a destination for warm-weather fun and activity, has suspended organized activities and banned beach use until at least May 13.
LLOP Executive Director Robyn Lynch said city officials will evaluate potential venue re-opening after May 13. That decision will depend on several factors, including state orders, Gainesville City Council direction, and input from local health officials, she said.
Lynch reported that although the beach is closed, “the park, picnic areas, and boat ramp are open.” The boat ramp, as were many remaining open on Lake Lanier, filled up in early April with boaters escaping their homes into the seeming vastness of the lake. Lynch said she had never seen so many trucks and boat trailers parked at the LLOP ramp on Clarks Bridge Road.
LLOP’s closure canceled April’s Food Truck Friday, as well as several Lanier Canoe & Kayak Club activities. LCKC Dragon Boat Team camps and the Gainesville Hall Dragon Boat Challenge have been postponed, said LCKC spokesperson Jim O’Dell. He hopes to reschedule the dragon boat challenge to June 13 to run with another club event, Paddlemania. “If we are still in the throes of COVID-19 or if we simply have more teams than we can handle, we will defer this event to Dragons at the Park, 10 Oct.,” he said via email.
The Boy’s & Girls Clubs of Lanier’s Rubber Duck Derby, held annually at the park, has been converted to a “virtual” event. Ducks may be adopted at www.rubberduckderby.com. Join the club’s Facebook page on Saturday, May 16 at 2:30 p.m. to find out who won the prizes, including the $10,000 grand prize.
Perhaps the greatest hit to LLOP and the local hospitality industry came when the American Collegiate Rowing Association announced it had canceled its national championship originally set for May 22-24.
The ACRA board announced March 30 there would be no 2020 national championship due to “continued significant progression of the COVID-19 situation, and with the vast majority of ACRA Programs shifting from ‘suspended’ to ‘canceled.’ ”
“It was a huge blow not only to LLOP but because of the economic impact to this community,” said Lynch, who also serves as Gainesville’s tourism director. Hotels, motels and restaurants took a loss, as did the Lake Lanier Rowing Club, which gets annual fundraising boosts from two large regattas. The March John Hunter Regatta, which attracts thousands of Southeastern college and high school rowers, was one of the first LLOP cancellations.
Lynch added that organizers of both regattas are “committed to coming back” next year.
Another LLOP event set for later this month may be postponed or canceled. The John Jarrard Foundation was considering rescheduling The Lake Show concert from May 30 to sometime later this summer or possibly canceling it for the year.
LCKC’s Moonlight Paddle and Kayak Day Camp remained on the calendar for June. Additionally, LLRC planned to start its first 2020 Learn to Row session next month. A Tri the Parks triathlon, duathlon, and aquabike set for June 6 was still accepting registrations last month. And food trucks may roll onto the LLOP plaza on June 12.
“I think people will be excited to get out” when restrictions are lifted, Lynch said. “But they will be more aware of social distancing.” There may be some changes this summer while people are still conscientious about maintaining distances, she added. For instance, tables at Food Truck Fridays may be spread farther apart.
As spring dawned on LLOP and the debris from winter rains was cleared away, the lake park looked very inviting. “It looks really great,” Lynch said.