October 23, 2021

COVID-19 forces area groups to rethink activities

Tourism at home

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Julian and Elijah Speight remove invasive plants Wednesday at Lime Hollow Nature Center in Cortlandville. With many venues closed and events canceled because of the coronavirus, Cortland County agencies are suggesting a bit of tourism at home, visting outdoor places where one can enjoy the summer while socially distancing.

Catching a baseball game or keeping cool with a movie have long been staples of summertime activities.

In Cortland County, the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day — summer, in essence — has hosted many events like the Cortland Dairy Parade, Brockway Truck Show and Seedstock Music Festival, just to name a few.

With the close proximity of people sitting and standing next to each other, however, these events are off the table, at least for now.

So what then is a person to do on a summer’s day in Cortland County?

Businesses and organizations are figuring that out as the weather gets warmer and remote learning at colleges and public schools comes to an end.

“As we move through each phase of reopening, I think you will see more and more businesses/attractions come up with creative ways to experience what they have to offer in a socially distant way,” said Meghan Lawton, the executive director of the Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau, in an email.

While many businesses and organizations may look to hold different styles of events, one thing remains similar — a focus on being outside as much as possible.

Embracing the outdoors

After nearly three months of being cooped up inside their homes with little to do for entertainment, people will look forward to getting outside this summer, said Charles Yaple, a professor emeritus at SUNY Cortland’s parks and leisure studies department.

“I think people are going to be hungry for outdoor spaces that they can utilize with a degree of safety and, having been cooped up, I think people are going to wish to be outdoors,” he said. “I think this pandemic can help grow an appreciation for the outdoors.”

Yaple said some urban areas, like Seattle and Portland, have been closing off sections of roads to cars to let more people walk and bike as a means of safely getting outside during the pandemic.

What to do?

Things to do in Cortland and surrounding counties this summer:
• Visit parks and trails like Dwyer Memorial Park in Preble or Tinker Falls in Tully.
• Find geocaches around the county through the Experience Cortland GeoTour on the Cortland County Convention & Visitors Bureau website.
• Order takeout or delivery from local restaurants.
• Kayak on the Tioughnioga River.
• Catch an outdoor movie at Greek Peak Mountain Resort’s weekend drive-in movie theater.
• Visit the following farmers markets: Cortland’s on Main Street, Tuesdays and Saturdays; Freeville’s in front of Freeville Elementary School on Sundays; Virgil’s farmers market at Hollenbeck’s Cider Mill on Saturdays; and Cincinnatus’ at 2704 Lower Cincinnatus Road on Saturdays.

— Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau

For more information on events and activities this summer, visit the Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau’s website at www.experiencecortland.com/.

Between March 16 and 22, bike trail usage increased nearly 200% from the same time in 2019, according to Rails to Trails Conservancy, a national advocacy group for the creation and expansion of rail-trails.

More so, with Cortland County’s abundance of natural recreational lands, Yaple said he expects more people going hiking, fishing, kayaking and doing other outdoor activities this summer where people can stay apart from each other.

“If there is a degree of safety, barring a resurgence of COVID-19, I think people are going to get out and about but be very cautious about their safety,” he said.

They already are, said Glenn Reisweber, executive director of Lime Hollow Nature Center.

In the 14 years that he has worked at the center, Reisweber said, “I’ve never seen the amount of people using trails,” estimating four to five times as many people using the trails than before.

While the center’s building is closed, Reisweber hopes people will still get out and hike on the trails — at a safe distance from each other.

“Get out and explore the natural world,” he said. “You won’t regret it.”

Attracting from home

Attracting outside tourists to Cortland County has all but stopped during the pandemic, Lawton said.

“Being in the tourism industry, our focus day in and day out is on the traveler,” she said. “This pandemic eliminated the traveler completely, and we have had to shift gears and focus inside county lines, which is not something we typically get to do. While external marketing efforts have all ceased for the time being, we have been able to focus internally — sharing all the things that local residents can still do, albeit in socially distant and safe ways.”

The bureau’s visitor center has been closed since March and all of the employees have had to work remotely, she said. In its place, the bureau has focused on providing all its information on its website and social media feeds.

Despite large event gatherings and programs being canceled this summer — including all programs held by the Cortland Youth Bureau and Cortland Crush baseball games — the bureau is still working on guides to have fun this summer, she said.

The organization has created guides to local restaurants offering takeout and delivery though no word yet on outdoor dining. Those interested in outdoor dining should contact restaurants directly.

It has created virtual jigsaw puzzles, socially distant bingo, where people visit different county locations, and guides to other events.

The bureau has been suggesting treks to different parks and areas, including Dwyer Park, Tinker Falls, the Finger Lakes Trail and Lime Hollow Nature Center.

“I think everyone is ready to get outside and have a little fun, even if it is in a socially distant and safe way,” she said. “Our community has been great through all of this, and I think they are managing expectations well. While we are all disappointed every time an event or festival announces its postponement, we know that those activities will be back next year and in the meantime there are lots of other ways to get out and explore the county and have some fun.”

While the county has entered Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan, the Convention and Visitors Bureau visitors center won’t be allowed to open until Phase 4, which does not yet have a set date.

“We want to see all of our attractions reach a point of full reopening, and are monitoring all the phases and are assisting these businesses where we can,” she said. “We exist to welcome visitors to Cortland County and to our attractions and partners, and when you can’t do that, it is sad, and tough and disheartening.”

A different kind of summer

With traditional events on hold, places like the Cortland Youth Bureau will look to replace canceled programs, including its sports camps and arts and crafts programs, with others such as a Madden video game league, according to the bureau’s website.

The bureau, which has seen budget cuts and furloughs, will look to see what other programs it can have, said John McNerny, the director of the bureau and Cortland’s Parks and Recreation Department.

“I certainly hope we’re able to resume some activities, but it may be a slow process,” he said.

In the meantime, organizations and businesses may start looking ahead to what they can do for summer 2021.

“While we mourn the losses of our events this summer, we know they will be back and stronger than ever in 2021,” Lawton said. “And, in the meantime, we have great attractions, museums, arts and cultural features and outdoor recreational opportunities available for locals and travelers alike.”