By Meaghan Kaiser
People working remotely because of the pandemic are moving to the Adirondacks because of its natural beauty, but the resulting surge of residents is taking its toll on the region.
Specifically, the overcrowding is creating a housing crisis and having a negative impact on the environment, but small businesses are thriving.
The Adirondacks is one of the most popular tourist destinations within New York state. Lake Placid, the site of the 1932 and 1980 Olympics is the most popular tourist town within the Adirondacks. The Adirondack Park is the largest park in the United States. Created in 1982, it is best known for its forests, rivers, lakes, and outdoor recreational activities.
According to the Lake Placid’s Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism (ROOST), approximately 137,000 people live in the Adirondacks year-round and there are approximately 10 million visitors each year. About 70 percent of the visitors come from May to October.
This number of tourists in the Adirondacks is steadily increasing. In 2017, 12.4 million people visited the Adirondacks. That’s almost 500,000 more people than 2016. This number continues to rise, especially because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
When the CDC recommended socially distant outdoor gatherings, many people flocked to the Adirondacks. Some people did not only visit for a short period of time, but they bought second homes to move there.
The Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism Event Coordinator and Lake Placid Regional Marketing Manager, Bethany Valenze thinks the intense growth of visitors to the Adirondacks within the past year is because of the stricter Covid restrictions in more populated areas such as New York City and surrounding states like New Jersey and Connecticut.
“Our Covid-19 numbers in the Tri-Lakes have been minimal, comparatively. We’ve managed to remain stable, taking great precautions while major outbreaks intensified in other regions of New York,” Valenze said. “With this, and the draw of outdoor recreational freedoms in the Adirondacks, we’ve found ourselves servicing outlying communities looking to seek normalcy after many months of living in isolated environments.”
People are coming to visit, and they are staying longer than before. According to ROOST’s 2020 Leisure travel study results, “In Essex County, average stay length roughly doubled the average from the last five years to 6.5 nights. Hotels / motels remained the most reported lodging choice at 47%. Short-term rentals grew in reported use substantially, coming in as the second most popular choice.”
Mim Millar, an Adirondack infection preventionist, said she felt safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, even with the number of people moving to and visiting the area.
“The folks with the second homes were really good about when they moved here during the shelter in place. They bought their groceries from where they came from so they could quarantine when they got here and respected that we all wanted to be safe and took care of each other that way.
People are no longer looking to visit the Adirondacks, but also to buy property. This is causing a housing boom within Lake Placid and surrounding areas. The demand outweighs the supply.
The Northern Adirondack Board of Realtors, Jodi Gunther, said that rentals in the area are limited and expensive. The average sale for a home in Essex County pre-COVID was $212,056. Within four months of the pandemic, it rose to $293,824.
Not only is it hard to find a second vacation home, but there is also currently a strong need for affordable housing the Essex County.
Not only are people looking for home in the Adirondacks, but people are also visiting the area for the first time. A major reason is because the Adirondacks are marketed as having various outdoor activities.
Boston native, Natasha Murray visited Lake Placid for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic. She wanted a vacation without outdoor activities.
“I had never been to Lake Placid before and this past year seemed like the perfect time. I didn’t feel safe traveling on an airplane to a crowded destination, but I felt safe being there. There were many socially distant outdoor opportunities to hike, swim, boat,” Murray said.
Outdoor activities draw tourists to the Adirondack region. ROOST reports that in Essex County, the number of visitors visiting the region for outdoor activities increased from 74% in 2019 to 89% in 2020.
This overcrowding to do outdoor activities negatively impacts wildlife and the 46 High Peak trails. This causes a growing concern about the overuse in the area.
According to the Adirondack Council, more than 56% of the Adirondacks trails in the High Peaks region are eroding. This percentage is expected to rise as a greater number of people hike the trails.
Organizations such as Protect the Adirondacks and the Department of Environmental Conservation are taking action to educate the community and protect the trails.
The higher number of people in the area impacts Lake Placid’s $10.3 million Main Street project. Main Street is a major destination for tourists and locals as it is home to many small businesses and restaurants. The plan is to complete this project before the World Games in January 2023. Because of the peak summer tourism, and the higher amount of people in the area, most of the construction paused during the summer.
Main Street returned to two-way traffic for the summer months. However, some parts of the construction project are continuing throughout the summer to a main parking lot across from NBT Bank. Mayor Art Devlin said that by continuing this park of the construction project through the summer, hopefully the project will end earlier than planned.
Even with the Main Street construction, businesses on Main Street are thriving because of the higher number of people in the Adirondack region.
“The construction did not keep people away. It was noisy and aggravating but our sales were booming.” Kathy Sauers, a small business worker on Main Street said.
Usually, her business closed in April for the slow season but this year the business stayed open.
“Now there really isn’t a slow season. People are here year-round. Last summer, people who had family homes and maybe would only come for one week stayed the whole summer,” Sauers said.