GROVE - Sam Williams knows a thing or two about fish tales and he believes the recent scare over blue-green algae on Grand Lake is one of the biggest.
"I was inundated with phone calls from everyone thinking the whole lake was closed down," said Williams, owner of Grand Lake Sports Center.
Williams and his family have operated the fishing and boating store, which has set at the corner of downtown Grove, for the past 60 years.
Grand Lake, which covers 1,300 miles of shoreline in Delaware, Ottawa and Mayes counties, had only 1 percent of algae reported in the entire lake and now Grand Lake has been made to look like pea soup, Williams said.
"The trouble is at Bernice State Park and no doubt you shouldn't swim in that area," Williams said.
Elk River, on the northern arm of Grand Lake, is crystal clear, he said.
"People have told me they can see six feet down (into the water)," Williams said.
Bright yellow signs warning of the dangers were posted all around the lake, surrounding communities and parks this weekend after Grand River Dam Authority directors strongly recommended Friday that visitors to Grand Lake avoid contact with the water due to a blue-green algae outbreak.
Talk around town on most holiday weekends is that a person can't throw a rock on Grand Lake without hitting a boat because of all the boat congestion. But not this year.
The abundance of boats means money for this rural Delaware County community, which watches its population swell from 6,000 into the tens of thousands when all the tourists come to town.
"My business is way down," Williams said.
Normally more than 4,000 fishermen, boaters and lake enthusiasts walk through his doors on this holiday weekend carrying out fishing lures and live bait, lifejackets, inner tubes, suntan lotion, sunglasses and flip-flops.
Not so this year.
"Business is way down, I've had about 1,000 customers," Williams said. "This has killed me economically."
Marina owners, restaurants and all other businesses on the lake depend on this weekend, said Bruce Johnson, Grove city manager. "It's a big weekend for Grove, just like Memorial Day and Labor Day."
Johnson said he would hesitate to say how much tourism dollars were lost saying he would need more community input before releasing a figure.
Customers waited in long lines at Walmart on Saturday. One tourist was overheard saying she wasn't going to let the warning stop her. She was just going to stay away from the shoreline.
"We have several customers that called and canceled reservations," said George Weston, Pine Island RV Park manager. "There's also not as many boats on the lake as normally."
Pine Island is across the lake from Shangri-La on the Woodard Hollow arm of Grand Lake.
Weston said the algae warning did affect Pine Island a little, but the park has two swimming pools, so people are using those.
"We care more about people's health than money, but the warning has killed our business," said Mike Smith, owner of Red Rock Resort, a small resort near Sail Boat Bridge.
The five-cabin resort is booked a year in advance, but with the warning, only one person showed up this year, he said.
"We had bait and ice delivered and now it's ruined," Smith said.
Tracy Robertson, Grand Lake State Park manager for Honey Creek State Park, Bernice State Park and Twin Bridges State Park, was not available for comment.
On June 24, the GRDA and the state Department of Environmental Quality confirmed the algae outbreak at Bernice State Park, in portions of Horse Creek and Duck Creek. On Wednesday, algae was also confirmed in Ketchum Cove and Party Cove.
Lake patrol officers are not issuing citations or warnings, said Justin Alberty, GRDA spokesman.
Algae is common in lakes and is usually not a danger to humans, unless it has strains that carry toxins.
Those toxins can cause intestinal and respiratory problems in humans and animals if ingested in large quantities.
As of Sunday, no reported algae-related illnesses have been seen at Integris Grove General Hospital, said hospital spokeswoman Kristi Wallace.
"I am pleased that the GRDA Board took no action to close Grand Lake," said Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, who works as an emergency room physician at the hospital.
But it's the way both agencies used fear to handle the problem that frustrates Cox, saying GRDA and DEQ handled the situation in a manner that caused near panic and decreased tourists at Grand Lake.
Late Saturday evening, there was a significant amount of increased boat traffic but not where it is normally, he said. Around 90 percent of the lake is safe, Cox said, who has 31 years experience as a doctor.
"People just need to use common sense," Cox said. "You don't eat yellow snow in the winter and you don't swim in stagnant water in the summer."