ELEPHANT BUTTE, N.M. (KRQE) – It’s the unofficial start to the summer and New Mexicans are once again celebrating the holiday weekend at Elephant Butte, which was shut down last Memorial Day weekend. It’s been a long time coming, but the social scene at Elephant Butte is back to what it used to be – filled with family and friends celebrating the long weekend.

“The happiness factor just went up in the state of New Mexico because of Elephant Butte being open,” said Neal Brown, president of Lago Rico, which rents out boats and other recreational activities at Marina del Sur. It’s night and day when it comes to Memorial Day festivities at Elephant Butte this year, compared to last year when the lake was closed.

“The shutdowns that we’ve had have been really difficult for a lot of people. It’s really hurt an awful lot of businesses, it hurt our business tremendously. Having everything back opened up again has been wonderful,” Brown said.

He says his business was able to stay afloat this past year because they had a significant amount of savings prior to the pandemic. But he’s thrilled to have business booming again.

State park officials estimate about 80,000 people visited the lake over the holiday weekend, which is average for a normal, pre-COVID year. “It’s the best feeling in the world to have family. To have family, to have a good time and enjoy each others’ company,” said Dominic Sanchez, who was visiting the lake.

“It’s nice to be finally together with the family again and just coming out having fun, still staying safe – it’s a little more free,” added Brenda Aduirre.

However, as KRQE News 13 reported last month, state park officials are predicting the water levels at Elephant Butte will be very low as the summer progresses due to the dry year the state has had and with the irrigation season in full swing now. However, both Brown and state park officials are hopeful the water levels will be good enough to keep the lake open to visitors. “The lowest levels aren’t going to hit until August and it’ll be towards the end of August which is after our season,” said Brown. “So no, we’re not too concerned about that.”

The next busy weekend the marina and community will be preparing for is the Fourth of July, which is their busiest time of year. State park officials say as of last month, the butte was 11% full, which is down from 26% last year. It has been 20 years since the lake was full.