Memorial Day weekend brought mixed economic signals for some area recreational businesses. The Fourth of July weekend should provide a clearer picture.
Some firms felt rain influenced their business during the Memorial holiday time. But Cathy Kennedy, director of rafting for the Nantahala Outdoor Center in Wesser, N.C., said the NOC's operations on the Pigeon River set a record for the period. Trips on other rivers were average.
"It rained Sunday and that put a damper on us," Kennedy said. "Usually on a three-day weekend, Sunday is bigger than Saturday."
Economic dips normally fail to deter NOC, which was co-founded 38 years ago by Cathy's father, Payson Kennedy. The operation still is in an expansion mode, having opened a store last April in Gatlinburg and planning a larger, 18,000-square-foot location on the other end of the town, adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in September. The stores cater to hiking and biking as well as river trips.
Ocoee Outdoors co-owner J.T. Lemons said the Memorial holiday "was really not a good indicator" for the year's rafting expectations, "because it was a rainy weekend. But our business has been pretty good considering what we've faced and the fact that the gasoline prices are going up a little bit."
River Rat, a Townsend-based business for tubing on the Little River near the Smokies, "had a very solid Memorial Day weekend," marketing director Taz Cable said. "We weren't down any, but business wasn't over the top, either. Everybody seemed to be in a good mood, though."
In the big picture, he said, this year's rain has been a boon.
"I think if people knew how well Mother Nature has taken care of us this year, we would have a lot more people out," Cable said. "Last year was dry and the water level was down, but this year it's back like it was many years ago."
Christy Houser, owner of Wilderness Cove Campground in Saluda, N.C., which also caters to tubers, said the Memorial weekend rain there dimmed the picture of what to expect in 2009.
Meanwhile, affected by slow sales, some boat dealers have reported cutting back on their inventory.
Ellen Hopkins, director of marketing communication for the National Marine Manufacturers Association, said her agency estimates boat sales to be off close to 35 percent for the first quarter of 2009.
However, she added that NMMA's tracking of the sport indicated boating participation was up in 2008 and prospects are good for 2009.
"It absolutely has to do with stress relief," she said, noting that such activity is often a diversion from hard economic times.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency's budget accounting director, Ken Tarkington, said sales of fishing and hunting licenses appear steady thus far.
"We're seeing about the same dollar amount as last year," he said recently. "Traditionally we tend not to go down during tough economic times. I guess it's because it's not an extremely expensive thing to do."