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Frank Gray

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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Mooring for a boat sits on a dry reservoir bottom at Pirates Cove Marina at Salamonie Reservoir this spring.

Business all dried up at Salamonie

If you’re fond of frolicking in the water, this has been the perfect summer – blazing hot and barely a lick of rain to interfere with boaters, skiers and swimmers.

Unless, that is, you’re name is Randy Yarger. The drought is costing him dearly, and it won’t just hurt him this year. Next summer, he’ll be suffering all over again.

Yarger owns the Pirate’s Cove Marina on Salamonie Reservoir. Most years, scores of houseboat owners and other water craft pony up rent for dock space and wait for summer to arrive.

It’s more work than one might imagine, running a marina. Whenever the water level changes, Yarger has a list of 130 different adjustments that have to be made quickly on the docks and on his floating store, even in the middle of winter when it’s 10 below, Yarger said.

It can be a good business, though. Yarger makes money renting the docks and renting boats and he brings in more money selling fuel and food and firewood and snacks at a concession stand on the beach.

But not this summer.

It didn’t rain, and it didn’t rain, and it didn’t rain. The water level at Salamonie, which was 20 feet above normal last year, was 14 feet below normal when the summer began. People didn’t bring their boats to the marina because the docks were as high and dry as Mount Ararat.

Oh, people could still bring their boats to the lake, but they couldn’t become Yarger’s customers because they couldn’t get close enough to buy fuel.

Yarger could have made money off the concession stand at the beach, but the beach was closed because of the low water level.

He could have made some money selling firewood to people at the campground next to his marina – campers have to have campfires, he said – but a burn ban was imposed because of the drought, so there were no campfires and no firewood sales.

Pirates Cove Marina has a policy. It doesn’t give refunds on dock rental because they have no control over the water level. But on July 4, Yarger looked out on the marina and there wasn’t a single boat there. So he called it a season. The marina was closed.

It’s been a bad year for a lot of people. Normally his two sons, one in college and one in high school, work at the marina in the summer, earning money for school or other wants. Every year he also hires several kids from his church to work there. For most of them, it’s their first job.

This summer, though, with no water, there were no jobs.

“I feel terrible,” Yarger said.

Add to everything else reports of poisonous blue-green algae in the depleted lake, and who would want to go there?

Yarger had to make a decision.

“I can’t charge people for a service I didn’t provide,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep at night.”

So he made an announcement. The marina is closed, but any rent paid this year will be applied to next season.

That’s good news for boat owners, but for Yarger that means that next year will, in its own way, be another disaster. It will be a year with little or no income from dock rentals, a substantial amount of money.

So is he worried? This is, after all, the kind of thing that can kill a business.

“I can’t be worried,” Yarger said. “If I worried, I’d drive myself crazy.”

Yarger does have other sources of income. In the offseason he has a roofing company. It’s something to fall back on. But now, after months of drought, “It’s raining and I can’t work on roofs.”

In a letter to his customers, he said they missed a summer of boating, but at least their houses didn’t burn like they did in Colorado. Life goes on, he said, and God will provide.

And on days when he is stressed out, he says, “I walk into a nursing home and talk to someone without a family. It puts life back in perspective.”

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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