Concerns Voiced About North Country Visitors During COVID-19

As Granite State residents adapt to the state’s stay-at-home order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, a commissioner in Coos County is concerned about what he says has been an in-flux of out-of-staters not staying in their own homes and instead heading to northern New Hampshire.

The result has been items and food hoarded from local stores, leaving little to nothing for local residents, and residents working in the North Country’s hospitality industry who clean camps and cabins put at greater risk, said Rick Samson, of Stewartstown, whose district extends from Groveton to the Canadian border in Pittsburg, and from the Vermont border to Errol.

As for those coming north, Samson said if someone chooses to live and work in Massachusetts, Connecticut, or any other state, they should stay there until the pandemic subsides and not expose residents in northern New Hampshire to any risk.

On March 30, after hearing concerns by some of his constituents, Samson reached out to New Hampshire State Police to see if any enforcement can be done.

During the commission’s next meeting, he is considering to ask his two fellow commissioners, Paul Grenier and Tom Brady, to sign on to a letter to Gov. Chris Sununu expressing the concerns and seeing if any enforcement can be done at the state borders.

“I was thinking of asking both of them to send a letter to the governor asking him to restrict out-of-state travel for the duration of this crisis,” said Samson. “We have a number of residents in the industry who clean cabins and camps and they could clean a camp or cabin occupied by someone who might not know they have it.”

In an email to NHSP Troop F Lt. Commander Gary Prince, Samson said, “I have had several constituents asking me if we residents are required to stay at home, why are we allowing non-residents into our state to get away from the virus and why are we allowing them to purchase necessary items and take them back to Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and other states?”

He asked if there has been any consideration of eliminating travel into New Hampshire at the present time and if Prince is aware of any possible discussions happening at the state level.

Prince said Sununu’s executive stay-at-home order is fairly liberal and allows a number of reasons to travel and be out.

“The governor has mentioned a number of times to the media that he does not have the authority to shut the borders down, so I would not anticipate that action to occur,” wrote Prince. “Any decisions on further limitations on movement would come from the governor.”

An email placed to Sununu spokesman Ben Vihstadt inquiring if other residents or elected officials have voiced similar concerns to the governor about out-of-state travel into New Hampshire and if there have been requests to restrict it was not returned by press time.

At Solomon’s Store in Stewartstown, general manager Zachary Brown said an influx of out-of-staters visited the grocery store early on in the pandemic.

“There was definitely a lot of hoarding and people coming in with four or five shopping carts, he said. “We had to put limits on items.”

Recent days, though, have seen less panic-buying and fewer people from out of state, said Brown.

“It was crazy for a while, but is starting to ease up now,” he said.

The pandemic was also a new experience for Leavitt Young, who has owned Young’s General Store in Pittsburg for 40 years.

In the early days of the pandemic, Young said he had trouble keeping some items stocked, such as paper items, and for a week bread, but it’s gotten better.

Many local residents are visiting the store, but as far as out-of-state residents buying up items, he said he hasn’t seen large numbers and said the bulk of visitors to the Pittsburg area are either locals or people who live in New Hampshire and have second homes in the area.

“We’re getting a little better on bread and other items,” said Young. “It’s not that bad at the moment … I think it’s a bigger problem downstate.”

At the North Country Shop and Save in Groveton, grocery store manager David Deming said he is not necessarily seeing a large number of out-of-state residents visiting the store, but is seeing another phenomenon stemming from the virus — more residents from nearby towns visiting the Shop and Save, possibly because they are experiencing shortages of food and necessities in their own towns.

Although keeping shelves stocked during the pandemic is challenging, Deming said Shop and Save is holding its own and is faring better than other stores in staying supplied.

Hiking Trails

In March, New Hampshire closed ski areas, which had been seeing large numbers of people, many from out of state.

More recently, for the White Mountain National Forest, which also sees a large percentage of non-New Hampshire residents, the U.S. Forest Service announced a proposal to implement an official closure area for Tuckerman and Huntington ravines, as well as for the Gulf of Slides, Appalachian Mountain Club Visitors Center grounds, parking lots and facilities in Pinkham Notch to help control the spread of COVID-19.

“AMC has already closed many of the facilities that they manage,” Deputy USFS Forest Supervisor Diane Taliaferro said in a letter to the public. “The Forest is basing this on historic knowledge of visitor use over a number of years, as well as documenting over 400 people hiking to the ravine last weekend. We also have performed risk assessments and mitigation measures to ensure the safety of the public, employees and volunteers.”

The closure will be in addition to the annual closure of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail above Lunch Rocks, and the areas will be closed to the public for hiking, skiing, riding or climbing, she said.

The larger closure area will remain in place until further notice.

Bethlehem’s Request To Visitors

Also addressing concerns about visitors coming into the North Country was the Bethlehem Board of Selectmen, which voted last week to encourage visitors to Bethlehem to self-quarantine for 14 days, following a recommendation by Sununu and a recommendation by federal health officials to travelers in other areas of the nation.

According to the report in the Bethlehem town newsletter, Bethlehem selectmen said residents returning from out-of-state travel are also encouraged to follow the practice.

Bethlehem selectmen said they do not have the authority to stop visitors from coming to the town.


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