ANGOLA — If there was any reminder of what tourism’s impact on Steuben County was like before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it was the Fourth of July weekend.
Some are saying it was as busy as ever, with thousands of visitors out on Steuben County’s lakes, dining in restaurants, shopping and staying at hotels.
Perhaps the biggest indicator of a huge holiday weekend was Pokagon State Park where it was estimated some 15,000 people visited from July 2-5, based on gate fees and park pass use. That’s the maximum social carrying capacity at the park, said June Julien, executive director of the Steuben County Tourism Bureau.
At Potawatomi Inn, you couldn’t get a room because they were all full. The same held true at the Wingate on Angola’s west edge where all but two rooms were sold over the weekend.
“I would call that basically full,” Julien said.
The Wingate is already sold out for this coming weekend when Angola Balloons Aloft is held, which attracts some 10,000 people annually ... unless there’s a pandemic.
One of the oldest, continuously running Steuben County lakes traditions, going to Tom’s Donuts on Lake James, was a big hit. There were even lines of people waiting to get donuts in the store in town.
“Oh, my, oh, my. It was the most remarkable, overwhelming experience in my life,” owner Todd Saylor said.
In addition to the donut shop on the lake, Tom’s has added a food trailer that sells gourmet burgers and other, more savory food items. That waterfront business, which fronts on Jimmerson Creek at the Four Corners, near the donut shop, has only been open this year.
Elsewhere, traffic on all of the all-sports lakes was reported as strong.
“I’ve never seen so many people boating on Lake James,” said Cory Archbold of Dry Dock Marine Center. Dry Dock is located near Crooked Lake but also operates a gas dock on Lake James, near the former Bledsoe’s Beach on the second basin. He said their fuel sales hit a record.
“By far the busiest weekend we have ever seen, both in the store and at the gas dock,” Archbold said.
There were estimates that the popular sandbar on Lake James packed in approximately 1,000 boats July 3.
There was a band at the sandbar July 3 and disc jockey entertaining on July 4 when the hot spot was busy once again.
Based on incident reports from the Steuben County Sheriff’s Department, people were relatively well behaved, with few arrests attributed to visitor activity.