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Water, business low at marinas

SUMMIT COUNTY – Skiers and boarders aren’t the only ones praying for powder. Marina operators, too, are hoping for lots of snow to fill up reservoirs next year.

Without it, Dale Mitchener is not sure he’ll open the Heeney marina at Green Mountain Reservoir next season.

“The outlook doesn’t look good,” he said. “We’re just going to have a very short season, if we have a season at all. Financially, it’s just not worthwhile.”



The Heeney marina closed for the season Monday.

This year’s drought and resulting low reservoir water levels have tested marina operators around the county and forced them to come up with some creative solutions to keep their businesses afloat. Each one has had to continually adjust its docks, slips and moorings to accommodate falling water levels.



Mitchener, who owns Heeney marina, said he’s used to a 40-foot fluctuation each season. This year, the water is about 75 feet low.

In an effort to keep the marina open for customers, Mitchener said he’s moved his docks twice a week since Memorial Day. The area where the docks would be located in a normal year hasn’t seen water since last August.

“Our business is down 60 percent,” Mitchener said. He depends on slip rentals, gas sales and boat rentals for profits.

Mitchener would like to see recreation considered as a valid water use – one that would give him water rights – but until then, “we just need to conserve water and pray for snow,” he said.

Over at the Dillon Marina, marina manager Bob Evans has more services from which to generate revenues, including boat rentals, slips and moorings, boat storage, service, sailing school and the Tiki Bar.

The boat rentals and sailing school have suffered this year, he said.

Evans said business has declined as summer has progressed. He estimated business was down about 20 percent in July and 40 percent in August.

Like Mitchener, Evans has moved his docks as the water has lowered – they are about 37 feet below where they usually sit.

But even if the water is lower next year, Evans said he’ll still be open for business. The Dillon Marina is on the deep end of Dillon Reservoir.

“I can still operate – I can move my docks anywhere,” he said. He plans to keep the marina open until the end of October this year.

Across the Dillon Reservoir at the Frisco Marina, marina concessionaire Bernie Baltich said he, too, plans to stay open regardless of water levels.

“We’ve decided we’d go out to Sentinel Island if we have to,” he said.

The Frisco Marina is situated in a much more shallow section of water than either the Heeney or Dillon Marina and is the marina most visibly affected by the drought.

In May, the water was one-quarter of a mile from the docks, Baltich said. Had he not moved the docks, the water would now be almost a mile away.

Business at the Frisco Marina was down about 78 percent in July – a number Baltich blames on more than the drought alone. Frisco is improving the marina with park amenities, and Baltich said the construction has adversely affected his business.

“Drought is Mother Nature, and it can’t be controlled. But make no mistake, there’ve been a bunch of other expenses here not related to the drought,” Baltich said.

He has asked Frisco officials to either extend his contract, buy him out, or assist financially, said Frisco interim manager Tim Mack.

Baltich, Evans and Mitchener all seem to agree this year’s missing ingredient – aside from water – is tourists.

“We’re not getting the tourists we normally get,” Evans said. “People think the water is so low you can see then old church steeple in (old) Dillon. I’ve been doing a lot of rumor suppression all summer.”

Mitchener, who also owns the Melody Lodge in Heeney, said he’s seen a decline in tourists at the marina, as well as those camping.

All three credit the lower tourist numbers to a combination of the drought and wildfires.

On the bright side, however, Mitchener said adapting to this year’s drought conditions by rearranging his anchoring season means he’ll be able to accommodate larger water fluctuations in future years, which likely will extend the season at the Heeney marina.

And Evans said he’s had an opportunity to complete work in the marina – dock maintenance and anchor replacements – that might not otherwise have been done.

“When you get lemons, you’ve got to make lemonade,” Evans said.


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