The three-day holiday weekend and warm weather brought a record number of visitors to Glen Rose looking to enjoy the Brazos River.
Vehicles lined up for nearly a mile along US Hwy. 67 and families toted coolers waiting for their opportunity to float or paddle the river this Memorial Day as the hottest ticket in town was the cooling waters of Brazos.
Two local outfitters reported that the demand for inner tubes and canoes was higher than in previous years thanks to near-perfect conditions and rising gas prices that are forcing travelers to look a little closer to home for a day trip.
“It’s usually the biggest weekend that we have,” said Max Rhodes, owner of Rhodes Canoe Rentals, of the busy Memorial Day holiday. “Other times we don’t have near that much business. This was just extraordinary and busier than in past years. They pretty well snowed us under.”
The overwhelming rush of visitors was also felt at neighboring Low Water Bridge Canoe Rental, said owner Kathy Cathey. “We have busy weekends even if it’s not a holiday, but nothing like what we experienced this Memorial Day weekend. We had to turn away business on Sunday and Monday because we just couldn’t do everything. I hated to have to do that.”
Both outfitters say Memorial Day provides for a boost in business, especially after last year’s holiday when the Brazos River was at floodstage levels keeping people from enjoying the waterway.
“Memorial Day weekend is our busiest because the college kids are out of school and the school year is nearing an end,” said Cathey, adding that the Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends are also big for business.
Rhodes reported that a total of 750 inner tubes and more than 100 canoes were rented out from Saturday through Monday.
“It would push us to have 180 tubes in the river at one time, but we were able to put in over 200 each day this past weekend,” said Rhodes. “As the tubes come in from one group, we’d send another group out.”
Rhodes also said the influx of customers required an increase in staff to handle the eager crowd of visitors. He called in family and their friends to help register the customers, load the trailers and transfer the groups to the river to begin their trips.
“We didn’t get all of them taken care of because some didn’t want to wait,” said Rhodes. “We had a waiting list and some just decided they’d go find something else to do.”
Cathey said she owns 60 canoes and over the weekend averaged 55 rentals per day. “As far as tubes go, I put in close to 200 a day. My feet are as big as my head from all the running around.”
Both outfitters reported that a lot of first-timers traveled to Glen Rose for a day on the river, as well as many repeat customers.
The majority of visitors, Rhodes said, came from the Metroplex, as well as a few from nearby Cleburne, Granbury and Stephenville.
Cathey said she believes the recent spike in prices at the pump is what has created the increase of visitors from nearby areas.
“In 1995, that was the last year we had a really good holiday weekend and this Memorial Day compares to then as far as the volume of business,” said Cathey. “I think the gas prices are having an effect. People used to drive all the way to the Guadalupe (river) and now we’re just overrun because they’ve found us a lot closer to home.”
Rhodes agreed, projecting 2008 could be a good year due to gas prices. “We’ve been in business for 35 years, and we have good years and bad years, as well as average years. I imagine we’ll have a better than normal year this time because of the price of gas. But who knows?”
He also says weather is a factor in drawing large crowds down to the Brazos due to the amount of water that’s flowing downstream.
“It can help or it can hinder,” Rhodes said Tuesday. “Right now the water has dropped down real low and I wouldn’t recommend anyone going tubing as low as it is. If it’s hot and dry and if they’re not releasing water from Lake Granbury dam, it can be bad.”
Ideally, Rhodes says, is when the dam upstream releases 500 cubic feet per second. “It’s usually OK to tube and you can go all the way in the canoes without having to get out.”
It’s when the Brazos River Authority lowers the dam’s release to 30 cubic feet per second that causes concern for Rhodes. “That’s as low as it gets and when it’s (water level) down that low you can’t tube because there’s no flow. If you canoe you have to get out and pull them through the low spots quite a few times.”
But this past holiday weekend was perfect for those floating and paddling the Brazos.
“Most everyone seemed to have a good time,” said Rhodes, “but there were a few that probably didn’t have such a good time. I hear the Game Warden was down somewhere writing (alcohol violation) a lot of tickets.”
Cathey also reported happy customers all weekend, especially those currently serving in the military who were not charged rental fees.
“I let all military personnel go for free. In fact, we had someone who came out that is leaving back to Iraq next Saturday,” said Cathey. “If it weren’t for them we wouldn’t be able to do this. We love our military.”
Cathey did have one customer who wasn’t so happy after getting out of the river. Somewhere along the way a gentleman lost the keys to his truck. “He told me he should have left his keys with me like I told him to, but instead, he had to have his truck towed.”
While both outfitters reported a busy weekend, they’re looking ahead to the next two big holidays in July and again in September. And if Mother Nature cooperates, she’ll continue to bring rain keeping the Brazos flowing for thousands more to enjoy though the end of summer.