Out-of-town tags have started to appear in Tallapoosa County even as the coronavirus numbers continue to rise across Alabama and homes on the shores of Lake Martin are coming out of winter hibernation.
“Folks are coming to open their places up,” Dadeville Mayor Wayne Smith said. “With schools being out, people able to work from home and some pretty good weather, they have come back to Lake Martin. It’s been about 78 degrees and pretty clear the last couple of weekends; you couldn’t ask for any better weather.”
Russell Lands vice president Roger Holliday said lake homeowners have returned early but are not overcrowding the residences. In the process, Holliday said he is seeing and hearing something different from the lakeside residents this year as many escape the coronavirus outbreak.
“I’ve seen families of four and five walking; I’ve seen people walking their dogs,” Holliday said. “The silver lining in this is people are going old school spending time with family. I heard from a father he had done something he had never done before. His family is here and went fishing with his son. While cleaning fish, he turned it into a biology lesson.”
Some of the homes in Russell Lands’ developments are second homes for professionals whose businesses are in areas with restrictions.
“We are spread out here,” Holliday said. “We are not packed in like New York and other places. Since many can’t go into their offices, kids out of school and the good weather, they decided to come to the lake. Some are coming to mom and dad’s lake house because it’s available.”
Holliday said Russell Lands is abiding by the orders of Gov. Kay Ivey allowing only takeout orders from its restaurants including SpringHouse, Willow Point Country Club and Kowaliga Restaurant. Russell Lands is also taking other precautions as business has grown at Catherine’s Market.
“Catherine’s (Market) has been rocking and rolling,” Holliday said. “Last Tuesday we opened up with everyone wearing disposable gloves we keep at the door and to wipe down the carts. They throw them away when we leave. We are doing everything we can to help prevent it.”
Holliday said even tee times at Willow Point Golf Course have been spread out to limit contact.
“Before this, we had tee times off both the front and back 9,” Holliday said. “Now it’s just down to going off the front.”
Holliday said people are taking advantage of Russell Lands’ trail system and everyone is doing this in a social distancing way.
“People are playing by the rules,” Holliday said. “We are doing everything to encourage everyone to play by the rules to help get through this.”
Holliday said pinpointing reasons to an early return to Lake Martin is obscure.
“It’s hard to gauge; the traffic patterns are different,” Holliday said. “Between the weather, spring break and the coronavirus, it’s hard to judge why, but I would say the coronavirus is playing a role.”
StillWaters is seeing its population increase as people escape to lakeside retreats.
“We have residents, much like Willow Point, where people that live in major cities and have a second home here on the lake,” StillWaters golf director Rob Witherington StillWaters said. “They are leaving the big cities, which are more dangerous as far as contamination, and they are coming to the lake. So I’m seeing a lot of people here at the golf course that I don’t normally see and I’m also seeing a lot of college students.”
Smith is thankful lake guests are supporting local businesses in the time of the coronavirus crisis but hopes everyone will keep restaurants in mind too as orders from Gov. Ivey has kept them serving only carryout.
“(Restaurants) are taking a hard hit,” Smith said. “They are only doing about 25% of their normal totals right now. They are really struggling.”
Renfroe’s manager Jimmy Cleveland said the store is the last stop before hitting the shores of Lake Martin on the Dadeville side of the lake. Cleveland said the store has been extremely busy due to the influx of out-of-towners.
“We’ve been wide open,” Cleveland said. “I’ve worked 60 hours this week with another day to go. This has been the second week of it.”
The weather has also helped sales at Renfroe’s.
“Everything started early,” Cleveland said. “We had an early spring; everything started to bloom and we have leaves. Everyone wants to get out with it.”
Like Smith and Holliday, Cleveland said COVID-19 and good weather accounts for the increase.
“It has picked up a lot since the coronavirus thing,” Cleveland said. “There are a lot of people coming in from out of town.”