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Jul 4, 2011 10:05 AM by Lauren Wilson & AP

Tourist return to Grand Isle

GRAND ISLE, La. (AP) - The big holiday weekend is good news for Grand Isle.
The little island's economy took a beating last summer as the BP oil spill kept shrimpers dockside and tourist away.
But this summer things seem to be getting back to normal as both tourist and the fish are back.
The Courier reported on Sunday that it was like old times with beaches open and oil free, and fishermen cleaning big catches.
Businesses that had closed because of the spill last year, or had seen their profits plummet, were eager to welcome visitors back.
The big holiday weekend is good news for Grand Isle.
The little island's economy took a beating last summer as the BP oil spill kept shrimpers dockside and tourist away.
But this summer things seem to be getting back to normal as both tourist and the fish are back.
Gil Hildebrand cleaned about a dozen speckled trout, throwing scraps over the dock where seagulls fought to nab the morsels before they fell into the water.
"The fish are back. It's on now," he said Thursday. "It's like it was in the past."
Grand Isle has been a favorite vacation destination for Hildebrand, 55, recently retired from construction business, most of his life.
He missed making the annual trip from his home in New Orleans last year, when public access to the beach and bayside was restricted because of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
"It was horrible," he said. "You couldn't get here. You couldn't fish. Everything was closed."
The small barrier island that serves as a vacation spot for thousands of area residents is returning to normal after the spill, which started April 20, 2010 with the deadly explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.
For months, a different kind of crowd packed the island. Hotels and many of the colorful camps with names like "It's Our Dream" and "Makin' Waves" that line La. 1 were rented out to work crews. The beaches were closed, and response vehicles packed the only highway in and out.
The continued presence of work crews through the winter was wearying to some island residents, who normally enjoy the quiet isolation in the months before its busy tourism season picks up and the local population, normally about 1,500, swells to more than 10,000.
There were subtle differences too. Sarah's Diner was packed for lunch this past summer and winter, when day workers ordered and scarfed heavy afternoon meals, but they had little business otherwise.
"We were busy for lunch and then nothing. It was a different crowd," said Gina Chaisson, a 42-year island resident and waitress at the diner. "Tourists eat all day. We turn tables for every meal."
Bridgeside Marina began stocking hardware for workers when sales fell for bait and tackle.
David Sandifer, a Baton Rouge resident, said rumors of good fishing conditions drew him to the island.
"It was kind of a last-minute thing," he said. "We are looking for the fish again."
Mary and Dale Robicheaux, from Cut Off, said the island is a convenient vacation getaway that they make frequently. Like many regular visitors to the island, those trips were disrupted last year.
"We had to cancel last year," Mary said. "This is something we really enjoy. This is our home."
All the island's beaches are open to the public, including neighboring Elmer's Island. Fourchon Beach remains closed while oil-spill cleanup continues.

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