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Gas prices continue to rise in Park Rapids

Gas prices hit $3.69 per gallon for unleaded in Park Rapids Monday. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Whether escalating gas prices will affect Hubbard County's summer tourism is unknown, but as more consumers scream over prices at the pump, the dollars per gallon issue is becoming a political hot potato in an election year.

"Certainly everybody has a budget that they work on and with what we've seen in the past, it's hard to say if we'll see it today, any additional expenses cut into your overall discretionary spending," said Katie Magozzi, executive director of the Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.

As tensions with Syria and Iran continue, gas prices have seemingly jumped a dime a gallon each week. Monday prices rose to $3.69 per gallon in Park Rapids.

Local convenience store clerks are getting an earful, said one young woman who asked that her name not be used.

"People don't understand that I have to drive, too," she said. "I don't get a discount on gas just because I work here."

Magozzi believes the rising prices for fuel could be a mixed blessing.

"I did find anecdotally, when gas prices rose high in the past, it actually helped us because people who were going to go to Yellowstone, Grand Teton or those national parks father away, stayed relatively locally, closer to home," she said.

"If you're paying $80 to fill up your car versus $40, you might not have as much to spend on other things once you get here," Magozzi said.

AAA, the travel guru, has a Daily Fuel Gauge Report.

It indicated gas prices are at an all-time high for this time of the year. Gas prices are over $4 per gallon in other areas of the country.

Rumors of $5 per gallon fuel by summertime are having a chilling effect on the country.

"It hurts everything, especially in a rural economy, not just summer tourism, but getting to work," Magozzi said.

"I hope it doesn't happen," she added. "Usually in election years it doesn't go up, but..."

Local gas prices saw their peak in the summer of 2008, when fuel rose to more than $4 per gallon.

"Our dependence on gas is crippling," Magozzi said. "It's not just America. It's international."

A disruption in the supply of Middle Eastern oil, or political conflict, could have local ramifications.

Gas started escalating in price earlier this winter when Iran quit selling fuel to France and Great Britain.

And while Americans are trying to conserve, growing economies in China and India are gobbling up more, Magozzi maintains. Global supply is at its peak, but global demand continues to rise.

Young farmers like Park Rapids' Andy Gartner, featured in today's special Agriculture section, say the rising gas prices will cut his profit margins, and could do so drastically.

At Delaney's Sports Center, Kevin and Debbie Lempola are keeping their eyes on gas prices, especially because they're surrounded by convenience stores on Highway 34.

"The trends are that people do stay a little bit closer to home," Debbie Lempola said. "Instead of going from the Cities here, they might go from the Cities to Brainerd or Little Falls. But we also get the Fargo people more."

"I don't think (gas prices) have affected us yet because we're not in the tourism (season) but all in all if it gets up there, it's definitely going to have an impact," Kevin Lempola said. "There's no doubt about it. And I don't think it's just us. Nationally when it went up before it ruined our economy and it'll do it again. It drives the price of everything up.

"A lot of our products are made out of oil in our store," he added. "I mean everything is plastic."

And those new rods and reels could come with new price tags.

Kevin Lempola said the higher gas prices won't necessarily affect fishing, but water sports will feel a pinch.

"Instead of water skiing from 10 in the morning until 6 at night, parents will allow their kids from noon to three. So you're eliminating that boat time, skiing, tubing, in half," Kevin Lempola said.

"Fishing you're not burning much gas but the water sports end of our business, where we sell tubes and skis, definitely gets affected."

Although there's no immediate backlash, the affect is like a slow water torture, for lack of a better analogy.

"I would say we're not going to see the effect of this until another year from now, then all of a sudden you're going to see everything high," Kevin Lempola predicted. "We never did see much of a reduction from the first time this happened."

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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