By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

CEDAR BLUFF RESERVOIR -- Lake levels have been down, but people are still heading to Cedar Bluff for camping, fishing and other recreation.

Visitation the first five months of the year is up about 12 percent over the same period a year ago, said Chris Smith, Cedar Bluff State Park manager.

"That's pretty good," he said.

Several elements are keeping people coming back, not the least of which is the economy. Entry permits remain at half-price, thanks to efforts by legislators.

While Kirwin and Webster reservoirs to the north have had to deal with too much water, the water level has almost held steady at about 16 feet below its designed operating level.

While visitation normally follows the water level, that's not been the case of late.

"Visitation is up over the last couple of years," Smith said.

Visitation was strong last year, but part of that likely was a result of $4-a-gallon gasoline.

"I think that had a big effect on visitation," he said. "The higher fuel price put a crimp on everyone."

Fuel prices have moderated, but lake visitors haven't altered their patterns yet.

During the Memorial Day Holiday, state parks -- including Cedar Bluff -- were packed to the gills with people, reporting record or near record crowds.

Smith said he's starting to see some of the Colorado visitors back in the parks.

And he thinks the lake has been doing a pretty good job of holding its own, at least in terms of water levels.

Typically, he said, the lake can lose about 3 feet of water to evaporation in a single year, but water has continued flowing into the lake and offsetting that loss.

Of course, he would be thrilled to see the lake full again, just as Kirwin and Webster are.

"We've been in the Bermuda Triangle for rainfall," he said.

Despite the low water levels, Smith said the fishing -- for white bass, wipers and channel catfish -- has been good.

"We've had beautiful weather," he said. "Every weekend has been just beautiful."

He's hoping for beautiful weather again this weekend when the Cedar Bluff Lake Association and the state park join to put on a fireworks display on Friday.

"This will be the third year," he said of the display.

To observe, visitors will need to purchase the $4.20 daily permit if they don't already have a permit.