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Rain throughout the summer had many visitors to the downtown area carrying umbrellas. File photo

Originally published: 2013-09-07 17:38:22
Last modified: 2013-09-07 17:40:55

Rain dampens local economy

by Anna Oakes

It has canceled countless cookouts and outings, no doubt, but this year's abundant rainfall has been more than an inconvenience for many High Country businesses.

Attractions, events and establishments that depend on dry weather have observed decreased attendance, cancellations and work delays as a result of record-breaking precipitation in 2013. July, usually a top month for tourist visits, saw 19.7 inches of rain fall in Boone, breaking the previous record of 13.05 inches set in 1941, according to the National Weather Service.

At Grandfather Mountain, rain fell 28 out of 31 days in July and 17 days in August.

"The rains actually started back in the spring, and even in June," said Harris Prevost, vice president of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation. "We were huddled in the office July 4 to stay out of the rain instead of out helping park cars. The Highland Games - Sunday was totally washed out."

Attendance at the attraction is down 21 percent compared  with 2012, Prevost said.

"We're not going to catch up," he added.

Boone's historic outdoor drama "Horn in the West" fell victim to the downpours, too, with attendance down as much as 27 percent this year. But the production managed to cancel only the same number of shows -- five -- as in 2012, and, as a result of other cost adjustments, "we ended up in the black anyway," said Michelle Ligon, chairwoman of the Southern Appalachian Historical Association.

Cloudy conditions turned away many hoping to raft, kayak and tube along the area's rivers, but outfitters such as River and Earth Adventures tried to steer visitors toward other, drier offerings, such as caving.

"You don't get rained on when you're in the cave," said Jeremiah Steff, operations manager. "Caving trips in relation to total number of trips have been up this year. It really has been kind of a blessing to us to have that available."

Outdoor recreation isn't the only sector at the mercy of the weather. Rain has hampered the progress of the local construction industry, which, in the High Country, already must work within a short season.

The Cottages of Boone student apartment development was forced to put up hundreds of tenants in area hotel rooms when it couldn't open all of its units in time for the fall semester. Mountaineer Crossing, a mixed- use project on N.C. 105, recently appeared before the Boone Town Council to request a phasing extension, citing the rain as the primary reason for construction delays.

Matt Vincent of VPC Builders said his projects are about a month behind.

"It's slowed everything down quite a bit," he said. "Everything is very far behind right now." Vincent said there is also widespread water damage to area homes and buildings.

But not every business in the High Country has suffered from the deluge, and some may even have benefitted, including the Regal Cinema movie theater and area shopping centers.

"When folks come up here, if they can't do the outdoor things, they come indoors and shop," said Dan Meyer, president and CEO of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce. "And the restaurants, they've been doing very well."

Questionable forecasts may not have kept too many from visiting the area. Occupancy numbers were slightly down in Boone, but up in Watauga County, according to Wright Tilley, executive director of the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority.

Boone occupancy tax revenue was down 4.38 percent in June (compared with June 2012) and about flat in July, Tilley said. Watauga County occupancy tax was up 5.44 percent in June and up 1.16 percent in July.

"Because we had other factors like the Best Western being closed in Boone, it would be hard to know exactly what impact the rain had on occupancy," Tilley said. "The other weather issue that could also have affected tourism is the mild summer temps off the mountain. Typically, when it is really hot in those markets we see an increase in visitation from people wanting to escape the heat and enjoy our milder temperatures and cool summer breezes."

Prevost said 2013 will be a down year for Grandfather Mountain, although the fall could help numbers recover some.

"We're OK, and we'll just hope for a really pretty October," said Prevost.