Laurel Marina & Yacht Club was the first marina on South Holston, which is the first lake in the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) chain. The marina has been in continuous operation as a family-owned marina since 1950.
The sprawling full-service dealership, service facility, and marina that comprises Laurel Marina & Yacht Club today bares little semblance to the marina that began more than six decades ago. The transformation began in 1989 when Laurel Marina was the first to introduce covered slips to South Holston and the growth has continued. From the humble beginnings all those decades ago has risen a solid and successful marina business that currently has the capability to moor 600 vessels, with permitting in place to nearly double that capacity.
The year was 1950. The Great Depression was becoming a faint memory, families were moving out to the suburbs, gasoline was 18 cents a gallon, the Tennessee Waltz by Patti Page filled the radio airwaves, and Laurel Boat dock was born when the Tennessee Valley Authority opened a hydroelectric dam and created South Holston Lake, forging a new industry along its shorelines: recreational boating.
In 1952, Laurel Boat Dock was leased to Laurel Yacht Club, Inc. by the original owner, the uncle of Dale Thomas, the current owner. After purchasing the marina in 1976 from his uncle, owner Dale Thomas continued to lease the total business to Laurel Yacht Club until he took over the ship store and buoy line that he leased to a private business in 1986 for one year, while he continued to lease his private shoreline for mooring non-navigable boat houses to Laurel Yacht Club.
In 1987, Thomas took over the boat dock and buoy line, and then leased the ship store to his current harbormaster and his wife to run this portion of the business since at that time he was an absentee owner. Later in 1987, Thomas was successful gaining approval to extend his shoreline with TVA on USFS land beyond his original harbor limits on his private property.
Thomas built the first covered slips on South Holston Lake in 1988-89. He started construction of 6,600' of road on USFS land, and a new parking lot on his property was built with the fill dirt for 175 vehicles from the excavation of the new road. It was completed in 1990. Thomas added more covered slips in 1990, and built the first floating restaurant on the lake in 1991.
After spending 22 years in the corporate side of the agricultural industry, in 1993 Thomas returned home to Bristol, Tennessee, to assume total control of the Laurel Marina operation after leasing the business as an absentee owner from 1976 to 1993 when he changed the name to Laurel Marina & Yacht Club.
Thomas continued to add slips in 1993 and decided to open the boat dealership in 1994. He built the original dealership building in the parking lot at the marina where it remains until recently. He introduced the first large houseboat slips for boats up to 90' long in 1996.
In 1998, Laurel Marina initiated the first approval for pump out facilities, bathrooms and showers on South Holston Lake. Thomas considers this approval as one of his greatest accomplishments because it took more than three years of working with the State of Tennessee. As a result two state agencies (TDEC & TWRA) pushed for code modification and TWRA has since provided a grant program, for up to $35,000 for all commercial marinas, to add bathrooms and pump-out facilities on the public lakes and rivers in Tennessee. This program has now been duplicated in other states that had similar restrictions.
In 2007, TVA, TDEC, US Army Corp of Engineers, and USFS approved Laurel for a 390-slip expansion after submitting an initial application for this approval in December 1994. Construction began in December 2007 with first-phase construction completed in November 2009.
With a required investment of more than $4,200,000, first phase construction included infrastructure upgrades, a parking area, utilities, public water and the five bridges for high and low pool access.
Laurel Marina was recognized by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) for being one of the key industry professionals instrumental in getting the Tennessee Boating Safety Act passed in 2001 while owner Dale Thomas was President of the Tennessee Marina Association in 2000-01, a position he has been re-elected to for 2015.
You might say that Dale Thomas has never been content to rest on his "Laurels." In keeping with his personal business philosophy, "If it ain't broke, IMPROVE it" Thomas has continued to refine Laurel Marina & Yacht Club through the completion of a second dealership location which houses the premier boat lines in the industry—including Sea Ray, Nautique, Harris, Supreme, Mercury outboards, and MerCruiser engines—improved customer amenities and engagement, and championing marina legislation that benefits marina owners state-wide.