By MAGGIE GEBHARDT

mgebhardt@dailynews.net

With fuel prices falling to less than $2 per gallon, travelers are making a mad dash to the pump in an attempt to save every penny possible.

People in Hays woke up Monday morning to a price they hadn't laid eyes upon in years. Locally, unleaded fuel had finally reached $1.99.

"I can't even remember the last time it was this low," said Hays Kwik Shop store manager Debbie Lewton. "It's been so long." Drivers have adapted to higher fuel prices over the last few years, so many are shocked to see the little amount it now takes to fill up.

"One customer came in the other day and said, 'It only cost me $55 to fill up my SUV and it usually costs me $100,'" Lewton said. Kwik Shop cashier Mallory Knieling said she has had several customers come in to prepay for fuel and they later become surprised to learn they are receiving a refund.

"They have to turn around and come back in to get money because it doesn't take as much as they think," she said. "They say, 'Wow, I could get used to this.'"

Gas stations haven't seen this much action in years, as car-owners are traveling more and pulling up to the pump over and over, the cashier said.

"It's been crazy. We've had people forming lines at gas pumps," she said. "When they see the prices going down, they're just so excited."

"No one really complains about gas anymore."

The timing couldn't be more perfect, with the holiday season wrapping up and the peak of travel upon families.

"People are on the move," Lewton said. "They can actually go places for the holidays -- they can afford it."

Jessica Wilson, Damar, passed through Hays on Tuesday on her way to Wichita for New Year's Eve festivities.

"I travel a lot, so I'm loving this," she said. "It has saved me probably $20 to $40 in the last month."

Wilson, 26, said she thought she was in high school the last time she had seen fuel prices drop below $2.

Some drivers are soaking up the low prices on their way to soak up some sun.

"I didn't think I would ever see this again," said Hays traveler Carolyn States. "I am thrilled."

Coincidentally, States said she and her family were about to travel to the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Texas.

"The prices are definitely making it much more affordable," she said. "We can't wait to be in warmer weather."

While travelers are ecstatic, not everyone has found the positive light in the fuel price plunge.

"I've met a few people that are in the oil industry and they are really unhappy about it," Knieling said. "I just think, 'Well, you guys had your moment and now it's our turn to have ours."

"There is an up side and a down side for everything," States said of oil industry workers.

Unfortunately, this up side for travelers will unavoidably come to a halt and prices will eventually creep back up again, according to the Hays Kwik Shop store manager.

"It's good now, but I bet it's going to come back to bite us," she said. "It will jump right back up there."

But for now, she said, drivers are just going to indulge and enjoy the cheap miles.

"It wouldn't surprise me if it got down to $1.60 before it's all said and done," Lewton said. "That would be crazy, wouldn't it?"