While on a rare family visit (it’s scary to get out too much) we visited Watkins Glen State Park in upstate New York. My mother’s family has roots in this area, and we’ve visited it several times in the past. There are always people there, but in manageable numbers. The website declared it was mandatory to wear a mask (“New York tough”!) and to keep social distancing. It perhaps didn’t help that we went during a heat wave when a walk along a waterfall-laced path seemed like a refreshing idea. I guess I had in my head the modest crowds we’d encountered in our many past visits. We were, however, not the only tourists (although somewhat local) with that particular plan. Not by any metric I can conceive.
If you’ve never been to Watkins Glen, the park has a Civilian Conservation Corp-built stairway and trail (approximately 600 stairs) through a glacial and water-cut gorge. The sedimentary layers are fascinating for anyone with an interest in geology and for those who like to ponder the millions of years required for the laying down and lifting up of multiple bedding planes. The gorge itself has a curvilinear appeal that is almost mystical. Waterfalls produce negative ions which, everyone knows, tend to make people happy. I was, however, more on the terrified side of the spectrum. It became clear even before we reached the gorge that there were hundreds of people already in the park. Most of them unmasked. Large crowds gathered around the more picturesque waterfalls, blocking the narrow walkways. Tourists have no idea what “six feet” might possibly mean. Stair-climbing is an aerobic exercise, and wearing a mask in such circumstances is the only smart thing to do.
While on the considerably less crowded trails of the Pennsylvania outdoors venues we more commonly frequent, I’m nervous when someone walks even more than six feet away in the opposite direction. This felt like a nightmare to me. Too many people paying too little heed to the mandated caution. I’ll be quarantining myself for two weeks for sure. Maybe more. I don’t get out much in any case, but even though we were obstructing our view through cloudy glasses and trying to get adequate oxygen through made-to-specification cloth masks, there’s only so much that prophylactics can do. I jog at first light to avoid other health nuts on the local trails. I go to stores only for necessities. Being in a canyon with the careless invincibles inspired less than confidence in this petrified pilgrim. Knowing human nature, it seems closing popular state parks until people get smart may be the best way out of a tight squeeze.