Troubled waters for Lake Tahoe boating | SierraSun.com

Troubled waters for Lake Tahoe boating

Jenny GoldsmithSierra Sun

Its the first full day of summer and members of the local boating industry are holding their breath, waiting to see if their businesses will be caught in the undertow of high fuel prices and a staggering economy. Like everything else, when you have toys that are paid for with a discretionary income, and the economy takes a downturn, youre not going to be spending like you used to, said John Walker, an Internet boat dealer and Lake Tahoe boat owner. I expect to see a reduction of boats on the lake this summer.With gasoline prices soaring near $5 a gallon, fuel costs have forced many car commuters to switch to public transportation an option that defeats the purpose of recreational boating.A growing number of boat owners are jumping ship and putting their leisure watercraft up for sale, and many who arent are keeping their vessels on dry land until the economy improves, Walker said. Gary Felsh, sales manager for Cope andamp; McPhetres Marine in Tahoe City, said boat sales are sinking and so are the habits of recreational sailors.People are holding back right now and not using their boats as much, Felsh said. And boat sales are definitely off.He said marina operators are hoping its still too early in the season to predict the summers success, and they are crossing their fingers that Independence Day will prove to be a turning point. The Fourth of July is really a benchmark to indicate how well we will do, he said. Right now, there appears to be less activity on the lake than in the past.One thing landlubbers may notice is more non-motorized watercrafts floating around Tahoe Basin waterways, Felsh said. You might see people go toward paddleboards, kayaking or wind surfing as an alternative on-water sport that doesnt require fossil fuels, he said.Out-of-town sailors may drop anchor closer to home instead of hauling their boats to Lake Tahoe, but that doesnt mean area residents wont shell out the cash to spin around the lake. Steve Hartwell, a Truckee resident and longtime boat owner, said hes pinching pennies in other areas so as not to hinder his passion for sailing. I dont fill up my tank in Truckee thats for sure, Hartwell said. Ive cut back on other things so I can still in enjoy the outdoors. Thats why we live here.While pulling his motorboat out of Donner Lake on Friday, Hartwell said hes noticed less traffic on the launch ramp and fewer boats on the lake as compared to this time last year. People cant afford to drive up here much less drive out on the lake, Hartwell said. Even people from Reno arent coming as much theyre staying in the Reno lakes.But its not just boaters and retailers feeling the pinch. Billy Fier, manager of Donner Lake Water Sports and Donner Lake Marina, said the company is getting hit with a double whammy.The rental firm has had to increase rates for ski boat rentals to compensate for the spike in fuel costs. But the gasoline and diesel inflation is deterring tourists, so the revenue is not being regenerated. Youre sitting there holding your breath hoping people will show up this summer, Fier said.