GREENUP COUNTY, Ky. (WSAZ) – Scuba divers took to the water Saturday at Greenbo Lake State Resort Park for the opening day of the park’s new scuba refuge. The people behind the project say they’re confident it will boost the economy in Greenup County.
“Outside of just some labor in and around the dock here, there was no monetary investment by the park,” Bobby Allen, tourism director for the county and head of the Friends of Greenbo group, said. “It was all done through the Friends group. Sweat equity – a lot of it, a lot of donated time.”
Allen said the refuge will bring tourists to the park at a minimal cost to the park system.
“We tried to do that in order for this to absolutely be a revenue-maker,” Allen said. “We wanted to add a new recreational activity to the park that didn't have a lot of overhead, that it wouldn't take a long time for it to build into something big.”
Divers will pay $12 a day to use the 10-acre scuba refuge. Those in charge say they expect it to boost the economy.
The idea came out of Marathon Petroleum’s cold water survival and rescue training at the lake, which park manager Cary Lyle said brought in approximately $80,000.
Todd Eastham, a scuba diver who was involved in the conception of the scuba refuge, said this will mean more tourists and local divers will stay in the county to dive, instead of going on vacation elsewhere.
“We like to keep our money here at home, to where it benefits our neighbors and our friends and the people who work her,” Eastham said. “We want the money to stay here.”
The scuba refuge will be open from April until October, like the campgrounds at the park. For now, the state park system is allowing the refuge to remain open for an initial trial period of three years. After that point, Allen said, they will re-evaluate how it is doing.
The project had its share of backlash at first, especially from fishermen.
“The rumor was that we were going to use the entire lake. One cove in particular that's up closer to the dam is a ‘honey-hole,’ if you will, for fishermen, so there was a lot of backlash at first,” Allen said.
After several community meetings and negotiations, an agreement was reached that satisfied nearly everyone.
"The great majority of those fishermen are on board with this project," Ron Brooks of the Department of Fish and Wildlife said. "They understand the significance potentially to the park but also to the economy in the area."
Saturday's ribbon-cutting ceremony featured a number of officials and speakers including Kentucky state representatives Jill York and Robin Webb, the Greenup County Judge-Executive, and Parks Commissioner Elaine Walker.
Lyle said he thinks the park's founders would be proud.
"They had a dream to build this lake," Lyle said. "We had a dream to put scuba in at this lake."
"This is a stepping stone to the ultimate goal of putting in more attractions and making it an outdoor recreation destination," Allen said.
He added that all the profits from the scuba refuge will stay in Greenup County and will be invested back into Greenbo Lake State Resort Park.
The refuge is the first of its kind in the Kentucky state parks system.