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Marinas fill the bill for boaters, campers, anglers on both sides of Harlan County Lake by Jennifer Chick
People visit south central Nebraska’s lakes for any number of reasons, but even when they escape for a few days at the shore, they are looking for the conveniences of home. That’s where the two marinas at Harlan County Lake — North Shore Marina and Patterson Harbor Marina — have found their niche. For them, business is all about providing customer service, from the boat fuel needed to cruise the lake to a local hangout with a beachy vibe for a cold beverage after a day in the hot sun.
“We provide anything anybody would need while they are at the lake,” said Bruce Beins, manager of North Shore Marina. “That’s our goal. When we get people to the lake, we don’t want them to leave for anything. We want to keep them here.”
Beins, who is also part-owner of North Shore Marina with Keith Rodehorst of Kearney, has been manager at North Shore for 31 years. He’s seen the lake full like it is now, and he’s seen it down three times over the last three decades.
“It always comes back,” he said. “Mother Nature always takes care of those naysayers.”
During those low water years, both marinas adapted, catering to the all-terrain vehicles that would drive the dry lake bottom and throwing special events to get people to the lake.
All the amenities
Both marinas are open seven days a week from spring through fall. During the busiest summer season, the marinas rely on local high school and college students to serve pizzas, stock the shelves, run the cash register, help with fishing licenses, and haul ice to boats for waiting customers. When training new staff, they always emphasize the benefits of listening to customers and making them feel appreciated.
“Once people get in, every amenity is here,” said Tami Kearns, manager of Patterson Harbor Marina.
In addition to the marina, North Shore’s services included 130 mobile home sites, 75 full-hookup campground spaces, 125 boat stalls, and two buildings for dry boat storage with 50 slots available. The newest dry storage building was added just last year to accommodate North Shore’s long waiting list.
Patterson Harbor Marina has a campground with approximately 80 camper sites with water and electricity, a trailer court with 92 lots to lease, 150 boat slips, four dry storage buildings with space for 70 boats, and Beach Bar, which was opened 11 years ago. Patterson Harbor also has rental kitchenettes available.
A convenience store on the water
Beins says a marina is like a convenience store but instead of the gas pumps being out front, they are down on the water. North Shore offers a small eating area and makes 3,000 pizzas in three months, has bait and tackle supplies, boat and tube rentals, ice, and snack items. Next door, Nelsen’s Landing Bar and Grill is run out of a building owned by North Shore Marina. It operated by Justin and Joanna Clark and John Nelsen, owners of Patterson Harbor Marina, and is managed by Jake and Trista Nelsen.
“We love this area,” Clark said, “and it was an opportunity to provide another business.”
Marinas are somewhat dependent on weather, but last year brought gorgeous weekends from mid-May through Labor Day. According to estimates from the U.S. Corps of Engineers, this year’s Memorial Day weekend brought more than 63,000 visits to Harlan County Lake, the biggest Memorial Day weekend ever.
“Harlan County Lake has always been such a big draw because it is such a beautiful lake,” Beins said. “The Corps of Engineers do a great job keeping it up.”
The feeling seems to be mutual.
“We’re fortunate to have good marina operators and we are very fortunate that everyone works together,” said Tom Zikmund, a park ranger with the U.S. Corps of Engineers.
Two distinct vibes
While both marinas’ main goal is to provide customer service to those enjoying the lake, each has its own distinct vibe. North Shore Marina’s building sits up off the water where it looks out over Gremlin Cove. The building has a seating area for quick bites to eat.
At Patterson Harbor Marina, customers can watch as workers feed the large carp that congregate near the dock year-round. They love chips but are picky when it comes to powdered donuts. Nearby sits Beach Bar with a beach volleyball pit and swimming area provide atmosphere.
“Patterson being on the south side is more of a stand-alone community,” Clark said. “We try to build on that community atmosphere.”
Patterson Bay sponsored a polar plunge this spring, raising $3,500 for Alma schools. This summer, there have been golf cart parades and a music festival. The Beach Bar draws people to the lake earlier in the spring for burgers and fun and keeps them coming past typical summer lake time into deer season.
“Our hope is to build our business, and as we grow, we hope to give different avenues for employees and to grow the area,” Clark said.
Planning for the future
Both marinas have been open since the 1950s, shortly after Harlan County Dam was designed and opened by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Back then, business owners saw the need to provide supplies for those who came to fish, swim and boat. Because both marinas are on federal land — Harlan County Lake is the only federal lake in Nebraska — the businesses must file paperwork due to comply with government regulations, a hassle that Beins says grows each year.
Both have seen steady growth over the last five years. North Shore would like to expand its campground in the future as more campers are looking for full hookups. At Patterson Harbor Marina, Kearns says she is working to get more of her staff certified for CPR since it is 45 minutes from the south side where the marina is located to the nearest hospital.
“We’ve got such a good resident population and word of mouth has been so good for us that we don’t feel we need to advertise because we’re going to be so busy,” Beins said.
Who to contact:
Patterson Harbor Marina
12121 Road 3
Republican City, NE 68971
North Shore Marina
70738 Lake View
Republican City, NE 68971