Mayor in Lake of the Ozarks credits viral videos of crowded parties for tourism uptick

Viral videos of jam-packed gatherings at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri tend to prompt criticism, but a local mayor is happy for any sort of coverage, crediting the attention for a spike in tourism this year.

Shady Gators, a lakefront bar, was called out on social media after videos from a Saturday EDM party showed crowds of people practically on top of each other and not wearing masks.

According to the venue, a performer scheduled for Saturday had cancelled, but Shady Gators put together a new lineup, giving people the option of getting a refund or attending the alternate event.

"There are absolutely no restrictions or mandates per the Missouri Governor that impact our venue in any fashion. Despite there being no capacity restrictions, we are still only operating at 50% capacity for this event to allow for social distancing. This is an entirely outdoor venue," said a Facebook post from Shady Gators. Temperatures would be checked, and hand sanitizer would be handed out, but masks were not required, even though they were "encouraged."

Shady Gators did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Parties and events are posted on the bar's calendar for weekends through Labor Day. On Thursday, a "Halloween in August" party is scheduled.

Similar videos of a crowded pool party over Memorial Day weekend prompted St. Louis County to issue a travel advisory and the Kansas City health director to call for self-quarantine of the revelers. The videos garnered national attention.

Image: Revelers celebrate Memorial Day weekend at Osage Beach of the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri (Twitter/Lawler50 / Reuters)
Image: Revelers celebrate Memorial Day weekend at Osage Beach of the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri (Twitter/Lawler50 / Reuters)

Twitter/Lawler50 / Reuters

The mayor of Lake Ozark, a city within the Lake of the Ozarks region, said he's happy for the publicity because it's sent even more people to the area.

“So you just think about what this has done for our economy and you just go, ‘Thank you, folks,’” Mayor Gerry Murawski told local station FOX WDAF.

He said the lake has seen more visitors already this summer than the past two years combined.

Murawski said the national news coverage has doubled tourism. “And as the end of July, my numbers say we are already at 9.1 million,” he said. “I look at that and go, ‘Well, maybe we’ve done something right."

He said the Memorial Day crowds did have him concerned. “We were worried — we thought two weeks after that our counts are going to go up, but they didn’t at all,” Murawski said.

But St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said Monday that some of the 13,000 cases the county has seen can in fact be tied back to the lake.

“We did have some cases that were able to trace back to crowds, including events at the Lake of the Ozarks,” Page said during a news conference.

"That remains one of many opportunities in the community — whenever social distancing is relaxed, people aren’t wearing masks in large crowds — with the presence of COVID in our state, especially at this point in time, the likelihood of becoming positive increases dramatically," Page said.

He asked those who attended parties in the region over the weekend to self-quarantine "to protect their family, their coworkers and everyone else out in the community."

Murawski did not respond to additional requests for comment.