High gas prices and temperatures have had an impact on activity around Lake Tenkiller and the Illinois River this summer, and officials are predicting a slower-than-normal Labor Day weekend.

Don Dixon, spokesman for the Corps of Engineers, said the hot weather started taking its toll on lake visitors last month.

“It started to drop off after about July 24,” he said. “The weekdays were slow, and it would pick up some on weekends.”

As may have been expected, many swimmers came out during the daytime. But boat traffic has not been heavy.

“It’s [the heat] really slowed down the tent campers,” he said. “About the only way you’d find people staying at the sites is if they had air-conditioned campers.”

Dixon said the start of the school year, and football season kicking off Labor Day weekend, could hold numbers down at the lakes for the final holiday of the summer.

“We’re expecting a decent crowd,” he said. “But not overwhelming. There are a lot of other activities going on.”

Dixon expects sites to be available in camping areas like Snake Creek, Strayhorn and Pettit Bay.

Gasoline prices will also keep the crowds down, and Dixon didn’t think cooler temperatures would bring the numbers up.

“People will hate to pay that price for gas,” he said. “It’s around $3 a gallon, but I think we’ll see a good crowd.”

Dixon also had a word of warning for people intending to bring boats to the lake, because it’s about 5 feet below normal.

“People need to be cautious,” he said, “especially if there are a lot of boats out there.”

Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission Administrator Ed Fite predicted much the same scenario for Illinois River visitors.

“Through the end of July, we were about average with last year,” he said. “We had a dramatic drop after Aug. 1.”

Fite said school starting earlier than usual, high gasoline prices, and the discussion of an alcohol ban on the river have been factors in smaller crowds.

He said the river is currently about half a foot below the normal level for floating.

“We’re expecting a very busy weekend,” Fite said of the Labor Day holiday. “It’s traditionally our second biggest weekend of the season.”

Memorial Day is the biggest weekend, and July 4 – Independence Day – is third.

Despite smaller crowds, Fite said the summer has been a good one for the Illinois River.

“We’ve had some problems, but it’s been a good summer,” he said.

The OSRC intends to ask the state Legislature for additional seasonal rangers for law enforcement on the river next year. The seasonal rangers patrol from the late spring-early summer to the end of September.

Fite has a reminder for all those who want to come to the river after the Labor Day holiday.

A cleanup is planned for Friday, Sept. 8, and those who are interested in participating should contact Meredith Lee at the OSRC office, 456-3251.

The county’s two largest law enforcement agencies – the Tahlequah Police Department and Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office – reported business as usual during the summer thus far.

“We’re dealing with a lot of the same stuff we have every summer,” Sheriff Norman Fisher said. “It’s been a typical summer season.”

Police Chief Steve Farmer said the same is true within the city limits.

Both said their departments will be working with Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers and other agencies during the Labor Day weekend on the traffic safety initiative.

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