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Optimism over tourism remains despite Lake Powell's historically low water levels

Posted at 5:39 PM, Apr 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-04 19:40:25-04

PAGE, Ariz. — Chris and Karin Summerford took their first trip to Lake Powell last week.

“I would have thought the water was going to be higher," said Karin.

"It’s a great lake, it's sad lake right now," added Chris.

The couple from Chino, California had looked at pictures before coming.

“The lake looked big," said Karin. "I didn't remember seeing all these fingers, like, I don't want to call them a puddle. It's a giant puddle. But like, pawns I guess.”

Lake Powell
Low water levels seen at Lake Powell

The 186-mile man-made reservoir hit a historic low of 3,525 feet a couple weeks ago and continues to drop by a fraction of an inch daily. Despite the drought, tourists keep flooding in, said Judy Franz, Executive Director of the Page Lake Powell Chamber of Commerce.

“I'm not one of the naysayers," she said. "I really feel like we're going to be okay, we're going to get some runoff. It's not going to come all the way back up again, but the cool thing is, is all the stuff that's on a lake right now is all these canyons you've never seen before, all these dead poles are rising up. So we're just rediscovering our Lake Powell again.”

Although spring break is a popular time to come to Lake Powell, the tourist season has only just begun. The Chamber of Commerce predicts this season will bring 20,000 visitors to the area.

"It's booming," said Franz. "Booming. I book boat tours here, we have booked them nonstop.”

Some locals, like Eric Schutte, aren’t feeling as optimistic about Lake Powell’s future.

“Used to be, I think, seven or eight marina stores," he said. "You know, repair and everything else. But now it's, I think there's three, between COVID and the lake levels just being decimated.”

The Pow Wow Trading Post is one of Page’s longest standing businesses. Eric Schutte has worked there for eight years.

Pow Wow Trading Post
Inside the Pow Wow Trading Post

"The locals are flabbergasted because you can't see the lake from the highway anymore," he said. "You can't see the lake from the edge of the mesa anymore because it's so low.”

The type of visitor is changing, said Schutte. Lake tourism is being replaced by sightseeing; land tours and air tours are overtaking boating.

“I visited once and moved," he said. "I mean, you take a look around and it's just, just mind blowing. There's something here.”