Despite the coronavirus pandemic, hikers and visitors were out to enjoy the mountains, streams and trails of the Adirondacks this Memorial Day weekend.
As the COVID-19 pandemic began to swell in March, the Essex County Board of Supervisors issued a message to the general public asking people from outside the area not to travel to the county due to the potential strain on its small hospitals and infrastructure. Town of Willsboro Supervisor Shaun Gillilland, chair of the Board of Supervisors, says things have improved since then. “We do not have a resilient medical system up here. It’s gotten better. We have the Regional Control Room watching very closely all the metrics so we have a pretty good idea what’s going on. But we worry intensely about that.”
Gilliland says there were a range of visitors to the region over the long weekend. “Quite a few second home owners came up for the holiday weekend or you know came during this weekend. There was a lot of tourists staying in the hotels up in the Lake Placid and Saranac Lake area. And then the report’s I’ve got from the High Peaks was that there was quite a bit of hiker traffic.”
Keene is a gateway to the High Peaks area of the Adirondacks. Supervisor Joe Peter Wilson says the beautiful weather brought people out but it wasn’t the first busy weekend of the season. “We did have quite a bit of hiking traffic. To tell you the truth I actually thought we would see more hiker traffic. On Saturday’s in April and May we had some really busy weekends.”
Wilson says officials in the area recognize that people want to get out so they are advising visitors to follow CDC COVID-19 guidelines including bringing face coverings even when hiking on backcountry trails. “I had this conversation with my teenage son at the beginning of all this. I said you know you need to bring a mask with you out in the woods. And he thought why? What if you get injured and need help? You need a mask to protect the people who are trying to help you. And what if you encounter someone who needs help? You need a mask and they need a mask so that you can protect yourself if you’re trying to render some assistance. So there’s a lot of reasons when you’re out in the backcountry ‘cause the backcountry is inherently more risky than shopping on Main Street. You know you need to be prepared to help protect yourself and other people.”
The Canadian border remains closed to nonessential travelers until at least June 21st. Gililland says the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism expects most travelers this summer to come from the Northeast. But when the northern border opens, Gilliland expects a surge of visitors. “As I understand it Montreal was kind of the New York City of Canada as far as the COVID-19 pandemic for the Canadians were. I think we’re going to see a huge influx of Canadians coming down here to the Adirondacks and if it crowded this weekend there’ll be a whole lot more of our Canadian friends coming.”
As travelers approached the Adirondacks for the long weekend a group of local residents held signs telling them they were welcome to go back home. According to the Facebook page of “We the People of the Adirondacks,” they are against a “rushed reopening” and plan to peacefully “…discourage unnecessary traffic and commerce through … communities in an unified effort to combat the spread of COVID-19.” Calls to group members were not returned.