Full Pool Harvest?

January at Lake Martin is well suited for many things. 

The fishing is great. Cool water temperatures mean the huge striped bass patrol near the surface, all the more accessible to the area anglers. 

Hiking is prime in January, also. You don’t have to brave 90 degree days, and when the hardwoods drop their leaves, you have all the more view of the water at places like the Cherokee Ridge Alpine Trail.

Real estate wise, I think January is the perfect time to go looking as a buyer. True, the weather is cool, and traditionally we don’t have many homes or lots on the market. The listings usually start increasing in February and March.

I still like to look in January because the water is down as far as it will go. Everything is laid bare and there is no mystery. There are no questions like, “How shallow is this spot at winter pool?” or, “Will I be able to use the boat ramp in January?” These questions are answered at a glance in the flesh.

January is also a great time for reflecting on the past year and planning for the future. When I look back at the fall of 2017, I was really excited at the prospect of Lake Martin remaining at full summer pool until the middle of October. For the previous 30 years or so, the rules that governed Martin Dam said that it must begin lowering its level after Labor Day.

The new rules for the next few decades say that, given enough rainfall, Lake Martin can stay at the summer high pool mark later into the fall. I was among many in the area that were excited about that. We all wondered how much a full fall pool would affect local businesses and (selfishly) real estate sales.

So, what, if any, change was there during the first full fall pool? Retail is usually the first indicator of traffic trends. In that vein, I thought about our local eateries.

I checked with Mark Albertson of Oskar’s Cafe in Dadeville. If you have never been to this gem of a restaurant, you have missed out. Oskar’s is located off the water, just north of the Blue Creek Bridge on Highway 49. It has been a cornerstone of the Lake Martin restaurant industry for many years. Mark said that they did see an uptick in business this fall, especially in November. When I asked him if he attributes that to the full pool, he said that it’s kind of hard in his business to single out the factors. However, he did think that the fall full pool, combined with extra heavy Auburn football traffic, made for a successful last quarter of the year.

I also talked to Randy Dawkins, Area President of River Bank and Trust in Alexander City.  I wondered if he saw an increase in lending activity this fall. Would increased home sales translate to more loan activity? 

Randy responded, “We have talked about how busier we have been this year for this time of year. I hadn’t thought about that being a reason. That could be one of the factors.”

Finally, I talked to Paige Patterson, a fellow real estate agent at Lake Martin Voice Realty. She definitely felt an increased pace of business this fall.

Paige reported, “For the first time in 5 years, I did not see a decline in activity at all from summer to fall.  Buyers kept coming, and kept buying!  More than a dozen of my clients bought the first day they came to look. It was great to enjoy the water through September at full pool, and the general consensus about low pool is, ’It’s not that low!’  I believe Lake Martin is a year-round real estate market. Our competition is other lakes around the South.  Our amenities (on water and in town) are unbeatable.”

I also asked Paige what she thought the potential effect for a full fall pool would be in the future.  Her thoughts turned more to the current waterfront home owners, “Alabama Power has a specific formula for this water table, and the plan is to go down to ten feet every sixth year.   So I think there will be some confusion after we get used to this seven foot lowering. We just try to stay in tune with their plan and educate as many people as possible. My advice is, when in question, ask Alabama Power, not your neighbor!”

Personally, I agree with Paige and the others that felt an increased level of activity in the fall of 2017, both in retail and in the real estate world. As I have written here before, I think it will take a few years for the snowball effect to gain momentum. The more people that visit Lake Martin in the fall, the more businesses will stay at full staffing to accommodate them. The more they are accommodated, the more people will return, etc.

I do think this will continue to be an excellent trend for the greater Lake Martin area. The benefits won’t be restricted to the shores of the lake. Greater tourism traffic will positively affect people “in town” as well!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going hiking. I will leave you to skim the rest of the articles this month. This might sound crazy, but I promise you: the written word still exists in the Annual Swimsuit Issue. 

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