Tourist Season ‘Springs’ Upon Us

Judy Kramer
County Reporter
Tourism is big business in the Benton County area, especially in the spring and summer months when Truman Lake and Lake of the Ozarks offer a fisherman’s paradise. The lakes are homes to trophy largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill and catfish; and Warsaw has maintained the title of “Spoonbill Capital of the World,” for many years.
 Data provided by the Benton County Tourism and Recreation Corporation gives an idea of the financial impact that tourists have in the summer compared to the winter. Executive Director Lynette Stokes pulled numbers of gross receipts collected last year for guest lodging and they showed a decrease in 56 percent for the months of January through March, and October through December over the amount of receipts for April through September. Of course, local residents can see that there is an increase in the number of visitors in the warm weather. Along with this increase in population must come more income into the economy. The Walmart parking lot is fuller, and trucks with trailered boats more numerous. It is apparent that more groceries are being bought, restaurants being visited, and lodging being reserved.  Already, this year, some marinas are reporting that seasonal boat slips and camping sites are booked almost to capacity for the spring and summer. 
However, the county does not have a large metropolitan city that draws tourists year round, even though there are events that cater to visitors late in the fall, such as Heritage Days and Oktoberfest in October, and Christmas on the Harbor in December. So, some businesses have to adapt to make it through the quiet, slow, and cold time of the year.
The River’s End Motel at 31635 Hwy 83, is pretty much fully occupied from March until the end of July. And there are spurts of activity when special events take place in Warsaw. A representative of the motel said that during the winter months when business is slower, the motel adapts its business practices by offering reasonable weekly rates, and allowing people stay for lengthy amounts of time until March 1. She said there are always those looking for a place to live temporarily, often because they are looking the area over and deciding if they want to move here.
Marinas in the area are usually closed for the winter months and they often use that time to do projects and maintenance to their facilities. Most of the area marinas were contacted about their preparation for the season, although a couple could not be reached.
Sterett Creek Marina, Motel, Campground and Marina, located on U.S. Hwy 65, three miles north of Warsaw, plan to open for the season on April 1 and close on the first weekend in November. They have opened the marina in March before, but only when mild weather made it possible. The all-season campsite reservations are filled, but there are still rentals for those wanting to stay on a nightly basis. The business owners spend the winter months doing upgrades and recently added new campsites. 
Truman Lake State Park Marina, at 14950 State Park Road East, opened for business March 15, and had a “good week.” Shut down usually takes place on October 31, but if the weather is good, it stays open longer. Owners expect to have a period of time without customers and make use of that time to do projects and remodel.  The marina has 256 slips with only one yearly slip still available to rent.  But, some slips are held back for nightly rentals. Slip rentals for the Memorial Day weekend are almost all taken, and July 4 is filling up too.
Angler’s Port Marine, at 13979 Hwy 7, is open year round, selling and servicing boats. Although they have a jump in customers during warm weather, the business stays very active all year with boat shows, and other events that brings in customers from all over the country.
“We also do internet advertising, have a website and Facebook page that bring in leads,” said Sharon Lincoln, Office Manager at Angler’s Port Marine. “We also serve our community by participating in parades, sponsoring kids fishing, and are Chamber members.”
Osage Bluff Marina and Resort will open April 1 and already has a lot of reservations for the motel and marina. Closing date is expected to be November 1. Business at the marina depends on the weather and lake levels, but if there is a “normal” spring, then the marina is busy all season. It has customers from Indiana, Illinois, Sedalia, St. Louis and Springfield, to name a few.
Bucksaw Restaurant and Marina, at 670 SE 803 Rd, in Clinton, opened this year on March 7, and sometimes opens on March 1 if the weather is good. It closes on November 30. It is a popular site for tournaments and has at least 10 scheduled for this year, helping to increase customers. A representative of the marina said that its customers come from as far away as Alaska. She said that it is nice to have time during the winter months to do things like refurbish the lodge.
Restaurants seem to do well all year in the local area. A staff member at Cosmic Café said that the restaurant has loyal followers who keep it busy all year long. Mac Vorce, Director of Warsaw’s Chamber of Commerce, said that he only knows of one business in the downtown area that closes up for the winter, and that is because the owner travels at that time.
City and County officials are mindful of the need for tourism all year long, and they spend a lot of time providing events and improving infrastructure to make residents and tourists alike feel welcomed and entertained.