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Don’t let COVID-19 divide us

The Adirondack Park’s wild beauty and ecological health attract more than 12 million visitors per year from all over the world to a park with 130,000 year-round residents and 45,000 seasonal homeowners. Being the most popular rural region in New York is usually a strength. During a global pandemic such as the coronavirus, it can also be a source of anxiety. As we have with other crises in the past, we will get through this together, not by building walls.

Thank you, Gov. Cuomo, for aggressive, fact-based leadership. He is urging us to stick together, as a state and as Americans, and be guided by science and hope, not fear. We also need his help to better prepare Adirondack communities for medical emergencies.

As the governor and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines make clear: Everyone in non-essential jobs should stay home. Everyone should practice social distancing and self-isolation, wash hands frequently, and avoid unnecessary travel. Use the outdoors for exercise close to home. Don’t engage in travel that requires contact with others. Keep an eye out for your neighbors.

Local officials are reminding people that the park has limited health care capacity. We have almost no COVID-19 testing. Volunteer-based emergency response is limited. Most services and businesses are closed. It can be a challenge to obtain basic staples. Our usual capacity to host visitors doesn’t exist.

Visitation limits are necessary. Overworked forest rangers may be relocated to other hot spots, which could strain their ability to respond to emergencies. For now, it isn’t safe to have crowded stores, parking lots or campgrounds. Crowded trails or summits aren’t safe, either.

It is understandable for people to be worried. That shouldn’t lead to panic or distrust of our neighbors or strangers. As the phrase “global pandemic” suggests, there are no places that are 100% safe. Yet no place in New York should feel defenseless, either.

Ensuring that tens of thousands of respirators and protective gear are available in New York City is an excellent goal. It is no less important to ensure that upstate hospitals and health care networks are staffed and equipped, too. Government should be investing in improving the park’s health care capacity, just as we invest hundreds of millions of dollars in Olympic facilities.

In 2020, the state should prioritize the nearly $1 billion allocated per year for Regional Economic Development Council grants to boost hospital, health care and first-responder budgets statewide. That amounts to $60 million to $90 million in the North Country region alone. The (9,300-square-mile) Adirondack Park includes parts of the Capital Region and Mohawk Valley regions as well.

The Adirondack Park is a Central Park for the world. The Adirondacks have for generations been a place of refuge and solace for the sick and injured. Post-crisis, the park can again be a source of clean water, air, open wilderness areas and, safe, welcoming, diverse communities.

Together we can keep one another safe as we ride out this period. We look forward to the day when the Adirondack Park can again welcome visitors from around the world to fill our downtowns and businesses and join us, to visit, be a seasonal resident, or live and work here.

When this is done, we will need each other and the Adirondack Park more than ever. Thank you to everyone who is part of protecting our public health and preserving the Adirondacks, for current and future generations.

William C. Janeway is executive director of the Adirondack Council, based in Elizabethtown.

(CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this commentary, the author inaccurately put the number of seasonal homeowners in the Adirondack Park at 300,000. He later revised it to the state Adirondack Park Agency’s 2008 estimate of 45,252.)

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