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New landscape for nature seekers

Despite closures, some locals expect uptick in outdoor tourism over weekend

Eileen Lowrey of Lake Clear wears a mask even above 3,500 feet on Nye Mountain on Sunday. (Provided photo — Zack Floss)

Tourism experts continue to predict a sluggish return to normalcy amid the coronavirus pandemic, but the Adirondack Park’s unique draws — millions of acres of wild lands and a wealth of outdoor destinations — has many locals still anticipating a rush of nature seekers this Memorial Day long weekend.

Visitors who do arrive will be met with an unusual landscape.

State campgrounds — including the campsites on the Saranac Lakes — are still closed, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Restaurants and retail stores are open for take-out or curbside pickup only. Attractions run by the state Olympic Regional Development Authority — including the Olympic Center, Whiteface Mountain, the Olympic Jumping Complex and the Olympic Sports Complex at Mount Van Hoevenberg — remain closed. The Adirondack Mountain Club, which operates one of the state’s busiest trailheads at Adirondak Loj, will start its reopening process on Friday with limited operations at the High Peaks Information Center, Johns Brook Lodge and Hungry Hiker restaurant. The town of Keene’s hiker shuttle to the popular Garden trailhead is not running, nor are Essex County’s buses.

“We’re not yet open for tourism at this time,” Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Shaun Gillilland said. “The amenities are not there.”

There are other obstacles, too. The U.S.-Canada border is expected to remain closed for regular travel at least through June 21. And black flies have hatched, showing their first fury this past weekend.

But even without the usual tourist attractions and amenities, signs have started to arise that a wave of hikers and second-homeowners could be coming.

Charlie Wise, owner of the Mountaineer outdoor gear shop in Keene Valley, said although he hasn’t seen the level of traffic they’d typically see in May — the business reopened Friday, May 15 for call-in, curbside pickup only — there’s some indication that this weekend will be busier than it has been in the last few weeks.

“Traffic is building up, particularly with the nicer weather this week, and we are hearing from people that they plan to be in the area this weekend and early in June,” he said in an email.

Wise said the Mountaineer is doing its best to be prepared while also adhering to state guidelines. He said it may explore shifting to an “open air” shopping experience when the region hits the second phase of reopening, which could start May 29 at the earliest.

“This will be a learning process in the days and weeks ahead,” he said. “There is every reason to believe it will be a busy summer, particularly with pent up demand for open spaces.”

The three-day Memorial Day weekend traditionally marks the start of this region’s summer tourism season.

The DEC and the town of Keene continue to encourage people to steer clear of popular trails, to social distance even while hiking or boating, and to wear a mask when it’s not possible to stay more than 6 feet away from others.

DEC forest rangers are still participating in the state’s COVID-19 response. Before going out for a hike, the DEC asks that hikers check out backcountry trail conditions at www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/9198.html and bring appropriate clothing, equipment and way-finding materials such as maps and compasses.

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