Business leaders, attractions and politicians hail Canadian border reopening, yet keep cautious outlook
By Mike De Socio
After nearly two years, the U.S. is planning to reopen its northern border to vaccinated travelers from Canada.
Starting in early November, the southern migration will be allowed again and Adirondack communities and businesses impacted by the COVID closure look forward to the projected bump in Canadian visits.
The Adirondack Explorer spoke with leaders from around the park to understand how they’re preparing for the border reopening.
Region well-positioned for new wave of tourism
The reopening of the border is just in time for Lake Placid, a community that shines in the winter months as a center of outdoor activities, says Mary Jane Lawrence, chief operating officer for the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism.
Lawrence said that ROOST is promoting the region, via social media marketing, to travelers from Quebec and Ontario as a “winter wonderland.” Lawrence noted that the Adirondacks in general is a great destination for them: It’s within driving distance, vaccination rates are high and covid case numbers are low.
“We’re really positioned really well for the Canadian market,” Lawrence said.
Many of the communities and businesses that ROOST represents are excited by the potential of the border reopening, Lawrence said, especially those that rely heavily on tourism.
Border crossing requirements could deter travelers
Garry Douglas, president and CEO of the North Country Chamber of Commerce, is not so sure that a tourism boost is imminent.
While vaccinated Canadians will be allowed to cross the border without a testing requirement, Douglas points out that Canada still requires a negative COVID test upon re-entry, even for those who are vaccinated.
“We welcome this as a significant step we have been calling for. But until Canada simplifies its crossing requirements, including eliminating the test mandate on top of vaccination proof, the impact will be very muted,” Douglas said.
Nonetheless, Douglas sees some immediate benefits:
- Families on both sides of the border will be allowed to visit each other.
- Business travel and meetings between the two countries can resume.
- Economic development activity on the American side of the border could increase, driven by pent-up demand throughout the pandemic.
Douglas is hoping to see the two countries return to policies where, historically, rules on both sides align. “It is unfortunate that both countries abandoned the principle of coordination at our shared border, creating this see-saw announcement of unilateral actions,” Douglas said.
A ‘wait and see’ approach
Hiker traffic trends have been changing rapidly throughout the pandemic. First, in the summer of 2020, Adirondack Mountain Club saw record numbers, followed by a slower, rainier summer this year.
That’s all happened without Canadian hikers, who typically make up a portion of that traffic. “We are definitely glad to have vaccinated Canadian visitors visiting again,” said Ben Brosseau, ADK’s director of communications.
Like Douglas, ADK is unsure whether the COVID testing requirements will limit day or weekend trips to the trailheads. “There’s a lot of things that are up in the air, but we are certainly keeping an eye on a potential for a bump in visitation,” Brosseau said.
If there is a significant bump, it’s more likely to come in the summer, rather than the slower winter hiking season. ADK is planning for normal winter staffing levels at its High Peaks Information Center at the Adirondack Loj.
“We’re used to working with high volumes, so whether it’s low or high I think we’ll be comfortable with the situation,” Brosseau said.
Elected officials cheer border reopening
New York Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer have been calling for the reopening of the border for months now, and both politicians praised the decision to finally do so.
“Finally, the New York-Canadian border will be open again to vaccinated travelers from both nations,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “The northern border is an indispensable economic partnership and ties our two nations together and I have repeatedly urged the Biden administration to enact this common sense policy now that 78% of Canadians over the age of 12 are vaccinated.”
Gillibrand said that “closure and loss of Canadian business cost the U.S. economy $1.5 billion each month.”
Schumer added that the opening of the border is a prescription he helped fill. “The pain is about to end,” he stated. “Very soon, the link between New York and our northern neighbors will finally be re-established, reuniting families, bolstering businesses, and ending a frustrating cycle of waiting for everyone involved.”
U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, (R-21st District) was also glad to see the border reopening, noting that she met with several members of Parliament and sent letters to “each of Canada’s provincial and territorial Premiers requesting their partnership and assistance” in making it happen.
“This is a long overdue step,” she said. “It is an important first step to rebuild the confidence in our cross-border relationship and friendship with our Canadian partners.”
New York State Assemblyman Billy Jones, (D, Chateaugay), called the border reopening a “light at the end of the tunnel.”
“The border closure was more than just an inconvenience for border communities like ours – the closure completely disrupted our way of life and I look forward to welcoming our northern neighbors back to the North Country when the restrictions are lifted in November,” Jones said.