Lakes expect big Labor Day weekend crowd

Labor Day weekend is almost upon us, and many people can’t wait to take advantage of the last holiday weekend of the summer.

The office telephones have been constantly ringing at Cheney Reservoir, said Ryan Stucky, the park’s manager. Same thing at El Dorado Reservoir. Camping spots are already filling up at both.

“All the wind damage has been taken care of, trees have been cleared. Nothing is holding us back from having everything opened and ready,” said Seth Turner, El Dorado Reservoir park manager.

“In terms of visitation and day use, we think we will have a crowd. The forecast is great.”

Forecasts are calling for temperatures in the mid-90s with plenty of sunshine all weekend.

AAA officials predict more Americans will travel this Labor Day weekend than any time since 2008. At least 34.1 million people are expected to take trips of 50 miles or more, up from 32.7 million a year ago. In 2008, 45.1 million took Labor Day trips away from home; the number dropped to 31.3 million in 2009.

Falling unemployment, better consumer finances, rising house prices and faster economic growth in the United States have all contributed to the forecast, issued every year by the AAA and prepared with research group IHS Global Insight.

“It is the highest number since the recession began,” said Jim Hanni, executive AAA vice president of public affairs, based in Topeka.

Popular destination spots for many Wichitans, Hanni said, include Branson, Mo., Omaha and St. Louis.

And, of course the lake – where rains in recent weeks have raised water levels at both El Dorado and Cheney and kept lake-goers from camping, skiing and boating. High water remains in some areas.

“All summer the crowds have been down,” Turner said. “For many, this is their last chance for summer.”

For people traveling, the good news is that gas is $3.35 a gallon, nearly 20 cents cheaper than it was last year at this time.

“Our gas supplies are in pretty good shape,” Hanni said. “But what is happening in Syria is making the market nervous.

“Crude oil has been over $100 a barrel every day since the first of July, which is high considering the supplies we have. But the tensions and unrest in the Middle East is keeping gas prices higher.”

Hanni is encouraging motorists to make sure their vehicles are in good working condition. Summer heat can take a toll on batteries and tires, he said.

“We anticipate responding to about 1,100 road service calls this weekend,” Hanni said. “The two most common concerns with the heat are car batteries and tires. One out of five calls will be tire issues.”

Many Kansans, though, will use the long weekend to just stay home – like Hanni.

“I’m just going to stay at home and get caught up,” he said.

Contributing: Reuters

Related stories from Wichita Eagle