The number of annual visitors to Lake Lanier, which borders Hall, Lumpkin, Dawson, Forsyth and Gwinnett counties, is now 11.8 million visitors, according to the Army Corps of Engineers, which governs the lake.
That puts Lanier ahead of the Louvre museum in Paris, at 8.1 million, and Shanghai Disneyland at 11 million, but behind Magic Kingdom’s 20.5 million and EPCOT’s 12.2 million, according to an index produced by the Themed Entertainment Association.
Most area residents don’t need to be told how busy Lanier is, especially during the Memorial Day weekend, often regarded as the unofficial kickoff of the summer season.
“During certain times of the year, we can have 40,000 or 50,000 people in one area (of the lake),” said Nick Baggett, the corps’ natural resource manager at Lanier. “We always recommend that during these high-use periods, people get here early if they plan on having a family reunion or any type of group meeting.
“We have to turn away a lot of nice people … who have waited until 11:30 (a.m.) to get here. Once the park reaches its maximum number, if everybody’s parked in all the legal parking spots, we have to shut down the entrance.”
So, how are all those people counted?
Local corps officials submit the numbers, along with campground reservations, to officials at the national level who then “take the information and run it through a statistical formula they have developed over time,” Baggett said. “It gives an average of how many people would be in a car.”
The corps announced Wednesday, May 22, that it would keep West Bank Day Use Park and Sawnee Campground — both off Buford Dam Road in Forsyth County — closed this weekend because of damage from heavy rains and flooding earlier in the spring.
West Bank’s reopening will be announced later. Sawnee Campground is set to reopen June 13.
Stacey Dickson, Lake Lanier Convention Visitors Bureau president, said tourism officials don’t have a breakdown of where the 11.8 million visitors are coming from, “but it is safe to assume a portion of them are local and nearby residents who frequent the lake many times over the season.”
Tim Evans, vice president of economic development for the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said he wasn’t surprised the visitation number is higher than was previously reported.
“People are attracted to water, and Lake Lanier is one of the most accessible recreation lakes to the growing Metro Atlanta region,” he said.