I don’t know what I was expecting from a trip to the Catskills.
Peace and quiet? An oasis of calm at a stressful time? A brief retreat from the concerns of the world?
Over Labor Day weekend, the Catskills offered none of those things.
The mountainous region to our south was busier than I’d ever seen it — so busy, in fact, we abandoned most of our plans and sought quieter diversions. Faced with a line of cars just to get into a campground and hike, we took a shorter walk in the woods behind our motel. When I chatted with the owner, he told me it was the busiest summer he’d ever seen.
“Since July 4th, it’s been crazy,” he said.
We’ve written a lot about how businesses are struggling because of the pandemic.
One recent Daily Gazette article observed that summer tourism isn’t dead, but is far from healthy. Restaurants, entertainment venues, local shops that depend on foot traffic — all face big questions about whether they can survive.
Less remarked upon is that some places are thriving, and while they might be exceptions, they do exist.
The motel where I spent the holiday weekend had clearly benefited from the surge in interest in the Catskills since the pandemic began.
The owner told me many of his visitors were New Yorkers who were tired of being stuck at home but didn’t want to risk being subject to a two-week quarantine by traveling out of state for their summer fun.
During my visit, this trend appeared to culminate in throngs of people descending upon trailheads and campgrounds, and scenic drives that were much busier than usual. Kaaterskill Falls seemed as popular as ever, despite the town of Hunter’s threat to tow cars illegally parked along Route 23A. We saw scores of families walking along the shoulder of the road, headed toward the spectacular 260-foot waterfall.
“We’ll take you there when you’re older and it’s not as crowded,” I told my son.
The tourism boom in the Adirondacks has gotten a lot of attention, but the Catskills have also experienced something of a rebirth. In recent years visitor spending has surged. More recently, New York City residents eager to escape the Big Apple have been buying up primary residences and weekend houses.
“It is unlike anything I have ever seen,” Robin Jones, an agent with Country House Realty in Sullivan County, told the New York Times.
The upside to all this activity is that more people are discovering the Catskills, an area flush with hidden and not-so-hidden treasures.
The downside is that the region might now be a little too busy for some of us, given the ongoing threat of COVID-19.
What I’m wondering is whether the surge in visitors the motel owner described will last beyond this summer.
Is it a temporary thing, fueled by the high number of attractions that remain closed and the restrictions on people’s mobility? Or is it something more permanent? Will people fill the motel at which we stayed for summers to come? Will they flock to local trails and pack local restaurants?
It’s too early to say, of course.
But I’m hoping the revitalization of the Catskills is real and long-lasting.
There are a lot of interesting things to do there and the benefits of increased tourism might extend beyond the area. Those who visit the Catskills might find they’re interested in seeing other parts of upstate, such as the Capital Region.
As for our trip, we did manage to find some quieter places to explore, away from the crowds and traffic.
We found a lovely park in Saugerties with sculptures and benches and a nice view of the mountains. We hiked to a creek near our hotel. We dined at an outdoor cafe and picked up beer from a local brewery. My personal highlight occurred when I was driving back to the motel at dusk and saw two black bears dash across the road.
All in all, it was a good trip — and an excellent conclusion to a most unusual summer.