BENTON — A Western Kentucky county is thriving, not just surviving, after a boat struck a bridge that leads tourists to the area.
Marshall County Tourism Commission director Randy Newcomb said from January through March, hotel room tax numbers have jumped by 20 percent. Newcomb told The Paducah Sun that warm weather has helped, but tourists wanting to see the part of the Eggners Ferry Bridge that collapsed also gave the numbers a boost.
"We thought it would hurt our numbers," Newcomb said. "But there has been no dramatic downturn. In fact, there's been a lot of people here with the weather and the fishing. It's been a pleasant surprise."
The bridge is undergoing repairs after being struck by the Delta Mariner in January. The bridge, which crossed Kentucky Lake, carries about 3,000 vehicles per day between Aurora and the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, which stretches from western Kentucky into Tennessee.
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Direct repairs to the bridge are set to begin this weekend, and construction firm Hall Contracting faces a May 27 deadline.
"People wanted to see the bridge," Newcomb said. "And we benefited from that. There were a lot of people who were curious and ended up staying here or coming down for the day during that time period."
Tracy Hugenroth, a clerk at The Hitching Post, said the gift-shop business has experienced steady business after they expected a radical drop in sales.
"We had a small drop-off when the quilt show was in because some people elected to stay in Cadiz instead of come over here," Hugenroth said. "But other than that it's been business as usual. We are expecting it only to get better."
Kentucky State Resort Park manager John Rittenhouse said the park had an "extremely good March." Rittenhouse said hotel staff worked extra hours calling people who stayed at the resort in the past and ensuring them the park was open.
"When a traumatic accident like that happens, some people just automatically assume the businesses in the area have closed or that they aren't open normal hours," Rittenhouse said. "We did everything possible to make sure they did not think that about Kentucky Lake resort."
Newcomb said reservations for the summer months have been slow, but both Rittenhouse and he expect the news of the bridge's completion to rouse summer vacationers.
"People are going to come," Rittenhouse said. "Fishermen are going to fish no matter what. People are waiting on news and to get the all-clear, so we aren't worried about the summer."