By Tracy Ormsbee
On July 3 this summer, a work holiday for the Town of Long Lake, Alex Roalsvig was still busy on the phone and checking email, waiting for important information. Would there be a Fourth of July fireworks show, even as other towns and villages were canceling theirs due to the coronavirus pandemic? It’s one of the town’s biggest events of the year.
Roalsvig, Long Lake’s Parks, Recreation & Tourism director, planned to close the town beach, scratch the live band and barbecue, and spread people out at a virus-avoiding distance so the show could go on. A police officer would be stationed at the beach to keep people from crowding there. She had the town board’s permission, but was waiting for direction from the governor’s office and the Hamilton County Health Department.
Once she had it, she’d need to let people know … just not too many people.
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She put some signs out the day of the event and advertised it on the town’s website, but didn’t post the news on social media.
“On July 3, I sent an email to businesses that we were having it,” she said. “We told people on the beach. It was all word of mouth.”
At dark on the Fourth, there were fireworks. People distanced. Some watched safely from boats on the lake. Roalsvig recorded the display live on Facebook.
But when the fireworks were over, there was another kind of heat the next day. She got some thank-yous, but also received phone calls from others accusing her of putting people’s health at risk.
“I waited for the COVID reports every day,” she said.
This is what directing activities and events, running public parks and supporting tourism looks like in 2020 in Long Lake. It’s a balance of keeping people safe while keeping businesses open and creating reasons for people to visit.
All in all, Long Lake has fared well. It was busy, and lodgings did better than anticipated. Restaurants were hindered by a rule to operate at 50% capacity, but figured out to-go alternatives. Sadly, big attractions such as the Adirondack Experience museum on Blue Mountain Lake, Great Camp Sagamore and the W.W. Durant dinner cruise on Raquette Lake were closed, but people were out on the trails and lakes. Outfitters couldn’t keep kayaks in stock.
“A lot of people discovered the Adirondacks,” Roalsvig said. “We’ve been discovered!”
And no one in Long Lake has gotten sick.
In early spring, it wasn’t so certain how all this would go. When the coronavirus shutdown was ordered, Roalsvig’s phone started to ring with questions she didn’t have answers for. As she got them, she created two new pages on the town’s website: public health and business resources. Then the town set up an alert system and input every phone number for Long Lake and Raquette Lake, something they’d been meaning to do anyway. A group made masks; town meetings moved online. Webinars were held on how to get hotel rooms cleaned, and businesses were given a template to create safety plans.
“We were all pooling our ideas and strategizing,” Roalsvig said.
Businesses were given posters created by the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism encouraging hand-washing, social distancing and wearing masks. But town businesses felt additional messaging was needed, so one Saturday afternoon, Roalsvig designed “friendly, but firm” signs listing best practices and symptoms of the virus. The signs are now being used throughout Hamilton County.
“It shows the traveling public we are all working together,” she said. “It’s one less thing businesses have to worry about.”
In good times, the town has a constant flow of events year-round, with a bit of a breather in November. Activities are promoted through the website (mylonglake.com), in local newspapers and through lively social media pages (Facebook and Instagram). If you’re not already one of the Facebook page’s 28,000 followers, treat yourself for a daily dose of beautiful photos (and moose sightings), updates and videos reminding you why you love the town and the Adirondacks.
And Roalsvig has added to the list of events since she took over in 2009: Quilt Camp, which brings 90 students and 10 teachers to town; an hors d’oeuvres bus tour over the February break to give a boost to restaurants; weekly trivia; music by the lake during the summer; expanded kids programming; and improvements and interpretive signage for the nature trail and kiosk in town. These are on top of the already well-known Fourth of July and Winter Carnival festivities and various decorating contests, including painting plywood cutouts of the town’s black bear logo.
“You want to keep the economic engine going,” she said. “We need visitors to keep us afloat.”
Roalsvig oversees a small staff, including an events coordinator, office administrator and park maintenance person. There is a part-time events coordinator for Raquette Lake. And she manages all the parks and recreation facilities—ball fields, tennis courts, the beach, town dock, pavilion and snowmobile trails. One day she might be closing facilities for the season and winterizing, on another, getting geese off the ball field, and on another, writing grants. And since it’s a small town and everyone does a bit of everything, she recently helped write the town’s strategic plan, which is being finalized.
“I’m Leslie Knope,” she says, referring to the main character on the sitcom “Parks and Recreation.”
After a short time in Lake Placid working in sports video production, she moved to New York City after her father died in 1989 and for 17 years worked as a production assistant for the soap opera “As the World Turns.” That work gave her many of the skills she leans on today. “You’re like the director’s wing man,” she said. “You’re troubleshooting all day long.”
She raised her family—son, Leif, now 20, and daughter, Abbie, 17—in New Jersey with husband Paul, an attorney.
Then in 2008, while visiting Long Lake, she learned the Parks and Recreation job was open. When it was posted officially in February 2009, she applied on a whim and got it.
The family picked up and moved into the house across the street from her sister in town and Paul opened a law office.
It turned out to be a perfect fit. Having grown up in Long Lake, she knew the Adirondacks. Her parents, Bill and Abbie Verner, were local community leaders. Her father was curator at the Adirondack Museum and creator of the Woods and Waters exhibit. Her mother was founder of Hamilton County Homemakers, town archivist, recreation director for two summers in the ’80s, and first female president of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks. Both parents taught briefly at The Adirondack Mountain School in Long Lake when it was open.
The two sisters have continued this family work, promoting and attracting people to the town they love. Vickie Sandiford runs the ADK Trading Post on the edge of town selling groceries and creative Adirondack-inspired gifts and Friday lobster rolls during the season.
“It’s still not commercialized, which is what makes Long Lake unique,” Roalsvig said. Still, the population has gotten smaller and older and there’s not a lot of housing stock, she said. But she is encouraged by some young people investing in the community.
“People value what living in a small community is all about,” she said.
And for her: “I’m in the place I love,” she said. “I’m really lucky to be able to promote this area.”
Favorite place: A family parcel at the north end of Long Lake “where you can’t hear traffic.” It’s “off-the-grid,” boat access only with state land behind it and a view of Buck Mountain. “I spent my youth there.”
More to explore
This article appeared in the Nov/Dec 2020 issue of Adirondack Explorer.
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