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Hoping for the Best in the Dells

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Hoping for the Best in the Dells

Lake Delton

Visitors to the Wisconsin Dells don’t have Lake Delton to play in. Flood waters caused the 267-acre lake to drain into the Wisconsin River. It’s a loss to the region and to the tourists who flock each summer to the Dells. But most business owners are keeping their chins up.

I’m standing here on the edge of what used to be Lake Delton. That is now a massive swath of mud and muck, there’s some water trickling through it. I’m in front of the seating area for the Tommy Bartlett show. A show that has been here in the Dells for years. One of its essential parts was a ski show and now the ski jumps are sitting on this mud and muck. Jimmy Lund’s been emceeing the show for years.

LUND: It’s a disaster. It’s just a big mud pit now. I always wondered what the bottom of this lake looked like. I guess I know now. It’s a lot prettier when there is water in it and we’re running our shows.

The Tommy Bartlett show had to find new—ground based acts. But it’s expecting to run shows this summer, with the empty lake as a back drop. The owner is hopeful.

Right across the lake at Ravina Bay Bar and Grill business is up. The restaurant has its own mud view and tourists are coming to check it out. Jenn Mattison is the manager.

MATTISON: I don’t know what’s going next week’s going to bring for us, or what it’s going to do for the summer. I think a lot of people that want to see how it’s progressing with the healing of the lake and rebuilding of properties. That’s the positive note I have for that.
HILL: So how do you feel. You look like you’re emotional?
MATTISON: This is very hard. This has just been very, very hard. I feel for the owners of this business. And the hardship that has been brought on to them is just unbearable. I still have a job. I didn’t lose my home. I didn’t lose my business. But I am emotional because I do care. I care about the people that run these businesses.
HILL: And do you think they’ll be able to make it?
MATTISON: Oh yes, they will make it. They are very strong people. It’s just going to be a hard, up hill battle. But they will make it. They are not quitters, not a one of them.

No one knows yet when the lake will be fully repaired and restored. But the owner at Lake Delton Watersports is planning to wait it out. Steve Zowin founded the company, chiefly a boat rental company, with his wife three-decades ago.

ZOWIN: Financially it’s devastating. It won’t put us out of business. But it’s two steps backwards this year for the 10 steps we might have taken forward in the previous years.
HILL: What’s your plan? What does a boat rental business without a lake do?
ZOWIN: We do rent boats on some of the other area waters, but it’s been a minor part of the business in comparison to our main location in Lake Delton. So we’ll try to expand on those a little bit to recover some of the income. But it’s not going to replace enough of it really to meet our expenses.

He thinks they’ll get by—he’s hoping it’s just for the season.

But most of the businesses in the Dell’s don’t depend on the lake.

Including its busy water park industry, where too much water is a good thing. Dan Gantz owns Noah’s Ark, which bills itself as the largest water park in the country.

GANTZ: The only thing in this area that has been hit is the lake itself. Everything else is just fine. You have all your other activities to do.

The Dell’s downtown hasn’t changed either. The Ripley’s Believe It Or Not store is open. So is the T-shirt factory. And Swiss Maid Fudge.

SWISS MAID TAPE: Hi, how are you?

Sandy Roehl is putting peanut butter fudge in gift boxes. She thinks tourists will still come.

ROEHL: I think so. I think so. I hope so. I think they will. I think they will.

And tourist and fudge shopper Nikki Taber says she will, with or without a lake. She’s visiting with her family from Beloit, Wisconsin.

TABER: Cause we like the Dells. We like the people here. We like the environment. It’s still the Dells.

That’s what most of the tourists I talked to had to say. And it’s music to the ears of local business owners.

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