Foss: Let’s keep the outdoor renaissance going

 Pictured is one of the sculptures at Art Omi, a park in Columbia County.

 Pictured is one of the sculptures at Art Omi, a park in Columbia County.

On Sunday my husband, son and I took a drive to the Columbia County town of Ghent to visit Art Omi, a large, sprawling sculpture park where strange and beguiling works of art occupy open, rolling fields and small patches of woods.

I was introduced to Art Omi over a decade ago, and I’ve traveled there many times since.

But I’ve never seen it as busy as it was last weekend.

The grounds were teeming with people, there was a steady flow of traffic in and out of the parking lot and the atmosphere was warm, cheerful and friendly. It was pretty much the opposite of my experience the previous April, when I visited the park on a cold, drizzly day and had the place pretty much to myself.

The crowds at Art Omi shouldn’t have surprised me.

The pandemic has pushed people outside, where the risk of COVID-19 transmission is extremely low, and it’s led to a surge in activity in outdoor places – parks, nature preserves, hiking trails – as well as places we don’t always think of as outdoors, like restaurants.

With the arrival of spring, diners have returned to sidewalk tables and patios, even when it’s not particularly warm: A few weeks ago, my family and I enjoyed an outdoor lunch at Wolf Hollow Brewing in West Glenville, warmed by a well-placed heat lamp.

Like pretty much everyone, I’m eager to put COVID-19 in the rearview mirror and discard some of the past year’s more onerous rituals and practices.

But I also wonder whether there are aspects of pandemic life that we ought to retain.

The great outdoor awakening has been a good thing, and the end of the pandemic needn’t mean an end to eating, playing and socializing outside.

There’s an opportunity here, should our political and business leaders choose to seize it, to keep the outdoor renaissance going.

Moving activity outside has brought a much-needed dynamism to our communities, bringing energy and cheer to urban centers and more rural places at a trying and difficult time.

Rather than view the boom in outdoor activity as a temporary byproduct of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, cities, towns and other civic institutions should build on the positive developments of the past year.

They should consider closing streets to traffic, if possible, to create boulevards where people can walk, shop and eat.

Pop-up art and music events – always popular, not just in a pandemic – should be encouraged.

More hospitable temperatures ought to make it possible to hold art shows and live music events outdoors – and to imagine a future where these types of events are part of our spring, summers and falls, even winters.

I’ve always been an outdoor person, and the pandemic got me to spend even more time outdoors, organizing walks and get-togethers with friends even on cold, blustery days.

These visits were shorter than they might have been in past years, when we could have ducked inside to warm up, but still rewarding, and certainly preferable to a long winter of solitude.

And there were some happy surprises along the way.

Skating at local ponds and treks through the woods to frozen waterfalls were fun diversions during the grim COVID-19 winter surge. Perhaps, in a previous year, we would have opted to spend this time indoors, at a museum or a library. With little in the way of options, we found other, richly rewarding activities and interesting places to go.

I’ll be happy when navigating an ever-shifting landscape of pandemic-related restrictions and guidance is a thing of the past.

But there are some things I’ll take with me, and a greater appreciation of the outdoors is one of them.

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

Categories: News, Opinion, Sara Foss

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