For many, Great Sacandaga Lake was refuge during pandemic

Joanna Olson, a broker with Howard Hanna Real Estate, on Wednesday stands in front of a home on the Great Sacandaga Lake on Route 30 in Mayfield that she sold.
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Joanna Olson, a broker with Howard Hanna Real Estate, on Wednesday stands in front of a home on the Great Sacandaga Lake on Route 30 in Mayfield that she sold.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 led to the cancelation of annual events around the Great Sacandaga Lake and put a lot of businesses at risk.

But the Great Sacandaga Lake region was also helped, according to Fulton-Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce President Mark Kilmer, because many of the houses dotting the reservoir’s 115 miles of shoreline are second homes and camps for out-of-town people, many of them hailing from New York City and northern New Jersey.

That area was the worst-hit in the country during the early part of the pandemic, so that meant many folks who have properties around the lake came up earlier than normal, Kilmer said. Working and going to school remotely meant these families could take advantage of the “natural social distancing,” he said, as opposed to being stuck in their city homes.

That meant more people were spending money locally, which Kilmer said really helped keep local shops’ heads above water.

It also meant as more downstaters discovered that remote work allowed them to work from anywhere, more of them have started buying second homes and camps along the Sacandaga. “It’s going to continue for quite some time,” Kilmer said.

The influx of downstaters also did not come without some local controversy. Many locals publicly and privately expressed their displeasure with so many people coming from an area where the COVID-19 virus was spreading faster than could be contained. Some of the concern also stemmed from having an increase in out-of-town traffic earlier than what locals are used to.

Kilmer said that keeping the local economy running was vital to helping the area make it through the pandemic, but the increase in visitors hasn’t taken away the qualities of the communities that attract them. “You don’t have to lose a community’s quaintness with more people,” he said.

Thanks to people escaping cities and suburbs and finding refuge in the lake region, Kilmer said, Fulton County last year posted the second-highest rate of growth in terms of second home and camp purchases.

That holds true for the entire lake, part of which is located in neighboring Saratoga County. A feature of the housing along the Great Sacandaga Lake is the mix of year-round, seasonal and camps that line the shores of both counties.

And while there’s not a lot of those left at the moment, the market is “very strong” around the lake and is expected to pick up again in earnest later this summer, said Joanna Olson, a real estate agent with Howard Hanna Real Estate, which has offices on both ends of the lake, in Northville and just outside Broadalbin.

Right now, Olson said she has fewer than 20 listings around the lake, which is unusual for mid- to late spring.

More listings always become available shortly after schools let out for summer break and more families head out on vacation. Given the trends of the recent market, she’s expecting those listings to be even higher.

The value of waterfront homes continues to increase as well. Olson said homes “on the water” don’t go for less than $350,000 to $400,000. That still remains incredibly competitive with regions such as Lake George, where the average list price of waterfront homes is upwards of $1.1 million. It’s also in line with places like Saratoga Lake, where average home prices are around $350,000.

The costs to own a home around the Great Sacandaga Lake also means competitively priced homes go quickly, Olson said.

The strong market is also not just due to buyers from the New York City area, she said. Some are first-time buyers, and there are also plenty of people from bordering states such as Connecticut.

Many buyers also come from the immediate Capital Region area, Olson said.

With increasing numbers of people looking for more recreational opportunities, the Great Sacandaga Lake saw a boost in the number of visitors in 2020, and all signs point to a bigger year, said Anne Boles, the chamber’s tourism director.

“Not only are we getting them back, we’re getting them earlier,” she said.

Local marinas and campsites wound up being completely booked last summer, Boles said, and she’s hearing available slots are already being scooped up.

Her advice? “Call early.”

One thing that may draw more people to the region is that many events canceled in 2020 will be coming back. Two major traditions have already announced their return in 2021, Boles said.

The Sacandaga Valley Arts Network is bringing back its series of outdoor concerts at Northville’s Waterfront Park. Also, the Northville Rotary Club’s Woodworking Show will run again July 16 to 17.

Boles expects more announcements will roll out on a local level.

If there was one industry that took a hit last year, it was the restaurants and bars, and those around the Great Sacandaga Lake were not immune.

Last year started particularly poorly for new establishments such as the Local Five and Dine in Northville, which was forced to close four days after it opened. The restaurant adapted by offering a limited take-out menu, which allowed it to stay in operation until it could start welcoming guests. That same adaptability was shown by the other such establishments all around the lake. Most were able to reopen, albeit on a limited basis, for most of last summer and are planning to go as full-blast as they can in 2021.

“Last year, the pandemic sent summer residents our way in droves,” Kilmer said. “It taught us how to survive.”

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News, Saratoga County

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