Hot, Dry, Tapped Out: Drought Shrivels Fun, Too The drought that's hit huge swathes of the country is also draining the audiences for outdoor activities. Fishers, golfers, boaters and gardeners are staying indoors, and that's bad news for the businesses that depend on them.

Hot, Dry, Tapped Out: Drought Shrivels Fun, Too

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The worst drought since the 1950s is still ravaging parts of the Midwest. Temperatures across the region reached 100 degrees or hotter every day this week and the National Weather Service says that some areas haven't had significant rain in a month. Well, farmers and their wilting crops have received much of the focus. Businesses tied to outdoor recreation, including fishing and boating, are feeling the effects of the drought, too.

NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: On the Fox River, about 50 miles southwest of Chicago, water swirls and plunges over a dam in Yorkville, Illinois. Normally there'd be lots of folks canoeing or kayaking here, but not today.

GREG FREEMAN: As you can see, most of my canoes are just sitting.

CORLEY: Greg Freeman, the owner of Freeman Sports Shop, has lined up a colorful array of canoes and kayaks on the grassy riverbank behind his store. The water is a few feet lower than usual, and in some spots, the riverbed is poking through.

FREEMAN: You know, I get reservations all the time, you know. People have been coming out here for years. But now instead of the, you know, 20 and 30 canoe groups, it's 10 and 15.

CORLEY: And Freeman says the drought has just about killed his bait business. Jason Szuimoszek, sitting at the riverfront park, says he loves to fish but with the water levels so low, fewer people are doing it.

JASON SZUIMOSZEK: The avid fisherman, I think, is going to find the right spots regardless of the drought. But there's parts of the river that you can actually walk from one side of the river to the other. And, you know, I ask sometimes, what's happening to the fish?

CORLEY: What's happening to the fish is that increased numbers are dying in some areas. Low oxygen levels in the water, along with the overall reduced water levels, are to blame. Chris McCloud with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources says these are natural fish kills. In addition to that problem, McCloud says a few boaters have called in, seeking help after getting stuck in low waters.

CHRIS MCCLOUD: We're asking people to use common sense, understand that you may not be able to travel to all the places via the water that you have in the past.

CORLEY: The drought has also becomes a big issue for golf courses. And it's not always bad news. Here at the Glencoe Golf Club driving range, about a half-hour north of Chicago, golfers whack away, littering the greens with yellow golf balls while squirrels lethargically half-leap across the grounds in the heat. Mark Pershing says the drought helps most golfers get more from their swing.

MARK PERSHING: The balls roll very fast on the concrete.

CORLEY: The greens are actually that hard?

PERSHING: In some places, yes. Here they weren't today. They were pretty good.

CORLEY: Stella Nanos is the general manager of the club.

STELLA NANOS: Brown is the new green for the golf industry.

CORLEY: That's because golf courses are trying to conserve water. For instance, the staff here uses water from reservoirs on the course to make sure the turf is in good shape but lets the rain take care of other areas. Nanos says many golfers don't seem to mind the drought conditions.

NANOS: Compared to the wet. Well, nobody wants to play when it's wet.

CORLEY: Barry Harlem, practicing for an early morning tee time, plays throughout the heat at a number of golf courses. He's says he's not worried about the lack of rain.

BARRY HARLEM: If you're good enough, pros, it's a big difference between if it's green and it's dry; 99.9 percent of the golfing public, it doesn't make a difference.

CORLEY: Where it does make a difference, though, is for folks who like to garden. Kathy Hayden is the manager of the plant information center at the Chicago Botanic Garden. She says the hot, dry weather has kept many gardeners inside.

KATHY HAYDEN: Oh, yeah, yeah. Nobody wants to be out gardening when its 105 degrees out with a heat index of even worse.

CORLEY: Even so...


HAYDEN: Plant information service. This is Kathy.

CORLEY: People still call to get answers from the volunteer master gardeners staffing the Botanic Garden's hotline. There have been fewer calls lately because of the drought, but a majority of those coming in are related to weather.

HAYDEN: In this heat, people think they need to go out and hold the hose over their tree or their plant every day. That's the worse thing you can do.

CORLEY: Hayden says instead you should water less frequently and more deeply. Most plants need an inch of water per week. While there has been some rain in recent days, it's just not enough. Hayden says, like many others around the country, she's hoping for rain and lots of it for several days.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.


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