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Now is the time to explore New York’s great outdoors

For travelers, the COVID-19 pandemic has offered challenges like never before. Around the world, the travel industry is expected to shrink by 50% — and New York is not immune.

However, the “new normal” also offers us the opportunity to stop, pause and take stock. This includes refocusing on the most important things in life — family, health and the “here and now.” Now more than ever, we must live in the present and grow even closer to those closest to us.

That isn’t the only silver lining. For those who dare to explore, the coronavirus has made it more imperative than ever to recognize and appreciate the beauty of the natural world. While travelers may be discouraged from visiting New York City and other urban hubs, not all is lost — the city’s loss is nature’s gain.

Moreover, we all have an opportunity to understand the enduring importance of the environment. Only by venturing outdoors can we truly comprehend what human beings are doing to Mother Nature and how we can reverse the damage that has already been done.

Because transmission of the coronavirus is far less common outdoors, New Yorkers are already venturing out to local parks to break up their quarantine routine. New research shows a gradual uptick in outdoor activity since America’s state governments first implemented stay-at-home outdoors. New Yorkers are not only traveling more frequently but also farther from home.

And that’s a good thing. We need to build on that progress. We must explore even more.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic (and the social unrest of recent weeks), New Yorkers must find time to “unplug” and leave the confines of their home. It is vital. Fortunately, the great outdoors is in the backyard: The Adirondack Mountains represent the perfect place for people to unwind. Hiking trails are everywhere, while campgrounds are beginning to reopen after months of closure.

Hiking and camping in the Adirondacks are two of my favorite activities. In fact, I chose the Adirondacks to be the U.S. base of operations for my company, Crua Outdoors, because of the jaw-dropping wilderness and wide range of potential activities.

From a mental health perspective, the benefits of outdoor exploration are immense. Spending time outside has been proven to lower stress and blood pressure, while elevating mood. Exploring green spaces is even linked to a lower risk of developing psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety and depression.

Just 20 minutes of outdoor activity — a stroll in the park — can bring about these benefits. Explore even more, and the benefits are only amplified. This is especially true in today’s day and age, as social distancing increases the chances of experiencing anxiety and depression. Technology doesn’t help, either, prompting people to spend their time with devices rather than being surrounded by and immersed in green space.

Perhaps most importantly, exploring the great outdoors can be done without amplifying the risks of contracting and spreading the coronavirus. New Yorkers can still practice social distancing during a road trip to the Adirondacks or a hike upon arrival. Similarly, they can still reduce contact with others while camping — “6 feet apart” is par for the course. Containment remains the goal.

Has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we live? Yes. Is life more challenging now? Of course.

But let’s turn our trials and tribulations into an opportunity. Let’s take advantage of the “new normal” and make it a better one — by recognizing and appreciating Mother Nature.

There is a diamond in the rough, and that diamond is the great outdoors. We can only find it by stepping outside and exploring the beautiful world around us.

Derek O’Sullivan is CEO of Crua Outdoors, a tent and hammock company based in County Kerry, Ireland, with its U.S. base in Saranac Lake.

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