WHITE LAKE — Labor Day weekend has arrived, the unofficial last of the summer.
In Bladen County’s popular resort community, businesses say they have had a banner year this tourist season.
“This was the best season we’ve had since I’ve been managing the property, which has been since 2010,” said Silver Sands Motel and Apartments Manager Brian Edwards. “At least, I know June and July were big months, and August isn’t over yet.”
Several motel and cottage managers voiced the same sentiment, noting the rise and fall of the economy.
“With motel stuff, it’s always up and down, and last year was down a little bit,” said Steve Needham, who, with his wife Janet, manages Langston’s Motel. “This year was much better.”
Dawn Maynard, executive director for the Elizabethtown/White Lake Chamber of Commerce, says she is hearing the same thing from merchants.
“I think it has been a wonderful season,” she said. “In talking to businesses, especially around the lake, they’ve been pleasantly surprised that tourism has been up this season and that accommodations have been at capacity.
“Entertainment at the lake, which was new with the Summer Jams concert series, was very successful, and that’s something tourists told accommodations merchants they really enjoy.”
Though both Langston’s and Silver Sands are open year-round, both managers, as well as other property owners around town, are preparing for the offseason, when the tens of thousands of visitors around the lake each week shrinks to near-normal numbers.
“We’ll start breaking rooms down and pulling out the refrigerators and cabinets, doing spring cleaning, as we call it, but not in the spring,” explained Janet Needham, who, prior to managing the site with her husband, worked in housekeeping and views the chores as necessities. “We’ll stand all the mattresses up to make sure they get aired out on all sides, and we’ll drain the hot water heaters. There’s a lot to do, but we want to make sure everything’s ready and people get what they expect when they come back next year.”
Places such as the Needhams’ normally shut down about half of their rooms, leaving some open for offseason special events that draw tourists.
“We’re excited we had a thriving season and hope people will continue coming back to enjoy the lake into the fall,” Maynard remarked.
Despite the end of the summer season, things won’t be coming to a complete halt tourist-wise. Merchants are gearing up for the next big event in White Lake — the triathlon. The bike/swim/run event covers more than 30 miles of water and pavement around the lake and is set for Sept. 8-9.
“After the triathlon, then it’s Halloween, which is a pretty big deal here, then we’ll start slowing down,” Janet Needham said.
Merchants in the area are breathing a sigh of relief at this year’s good turnout, after early-season concerns that water clarity would affect tourism.
“I think there was a lot of misrepresentation on social media,” Edwards said. “It had a short-term effect, but it was quickly overridden, and long-term we’re doing really (well).”
Janet Needham, of Langston’s Motel, strips a bed and prepares to air the mattress out, tasks she completes in order to prepare rooms for the offseason at White Lake.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing email@example.com.