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America’s 8 favorite mountain towns

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There’s something special about mountain towns. Fresh air and scenic eye-appeal are givens — but life in these alpine communities is largely driven by outdoor activities. All year, there’s something happening. Summer hikes, water sports, picnics and barbeques give way in the winter to skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, ice skating and sledding.

Mountain towns also have a magnetic attraction for artists and crafters, innovative merchants and big city restaurateurs seeking a new start — all of which bode well for those who prefer indoor pleasures such as shopping, dining and nightlife.

We’ve scoured the country in search of mountain towns with the most to offer visitors, and here’s our list of the top eight.

Sisters, Oregon

Named for a trio of towering Cascade Mountain peaks to its west, Sisters is a bustling, artsy community with charming 1880s facades and a friendly small-town ambience. It is a year-round fun spot, with camping and fishing nearby at Suttle Lake, mountain biking on the 25-mile-long Peterson Ridge Trail and 800 acres of family-friendly ski terrain at Hoodoo Ski Area.

Major events meriting a visit include the annual Sisters Rodeo in June, the Sisters Folk Festival in September and the world’s largest outdoor quilt show on the second weekend of July.

Julian, California

This San Diego-area mountain town was once the scene of Southern California’s biggest gold rush. Today folks are rushing here primarily to try some of Julian’s world-famous apple pie. The pie is an obvious byproduct of the area’s many apple orchards (yes, there’s a tour).

Gold is no longer extracted from local mines, but one — the Eagle Mining Co. — has been reopened for tours. Round out a day of old-timey fun with a ride along Main Street in a horse-drawn carriage.

Telluride is synonymous with skiing and high mountain peaks.

Telluride, Colorado

Tucked away in a box canyon and surrounded by 14,000-foot peaks, this Victorian-era mining town boasts a picture-postcard setting and a reputation that ranks it amongst America’s most famous mountain towns. It has been named “No. 1 Best Small Town to Visit in the USA” by U.S. News & World Report. Year after year, readers of Condé Nast Traveler rank Telluride as the “#1 Ski Resort in North America,” and The New York Times says, “Telluride isn’t just a ski area; it’s a way of life.”

The town is a favorite for some owing to its world-class alpine skiing, while others are swayed by summers full of cultural events, including the iconic Telluride Bluegrass Festival and an endless variety of outdoor activities. What rings true to everyone, however, is the town’s authentic mountain character and unpretentious attitude. Standing tall with an elevation of 8,750 feet, Telluride is the highest mountain town on our list.

Taos, New Mexico

New Mexico isn’t just about Santa Fe.Nearby Taos, with a population of just 6,000, punches way more than its weight when it comes to history, culture and outdoor activities. Situated on a rolling 7,000-foot-high mesa at the base of the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Taos is an outdoor haven with an enthralling history. Its unique blend of cultures — Spanish, Native American and Anglo — have historically drawn artists, writers and photographers, as evidenced by the presence of museums, festivals and more than 80 art galleries.

Native American culture is on full display at Taos Pueblo, where descendants of the Tiwa people live in the oldest continuously inhabited community in America. The pueblo was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992.

Adventurists bent on outdoor activity can choose from skiing and snowboarding at three local ski areas, rafting and kayaking in the Rio Grande and Chama Rivers, mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing, fishing and llama trekking.

Deadwood, South Dakota

A popular backdrop for television and the movies, this “Wild

West” town nestled in the Black Hills of South Dakota certainly looks the part of the rollicking 1876 gold rush town that it actually was. Somewhat in the spirit of the lawless Old West, electronic gaming halls have taken the place of rowdy saloons, card rooms and brothels.

There are tourist shops aplenty and some reasonably good restaurants, including the Gem Steakhouse with a menu inspired by the real-life characters on the TV series “Deadwood.” A local cemetery contains the graves of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.

Nearby Spearfish Canyon is home to several outstanding waterfalls. Custer State Park, with its huge herd of 1,300 bison; Mount Rushmore; and Badlands National Park are all close by. Deadwood’s location in the middle of the Black Hills provides easy access to outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing and fly fishing.

Asheville is surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains in Western North Carolina.

Asheville, North Carolina

With a population pushing 93,000, Asheville is the largest community on our list of marvelous mountain hangouts. But, it’s a small town at heart — a cool, progressive and rather classy one at that. Asheville itself, at 2,134 feet in elevation, isn’t actually in the mountains — but it is virtually ringed by the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Overlooking the city, in fact, is Mount Mitchell (aka “Grandfather Mountain”), the highest point east of the Mississippi at 6,684 feet. Those seeking exercise (and a fabulous view) can hike the 1.5-mile trail to the summit. Surrounding Asheville as well is roughly a million acres of protected wilderness that provides plenty of space to hike, bike, paddle and fish.

If motoring is your thing, Asheville serves as a convenient springboard for a spin along the Blue Ridge Parkway — one the country’s blue-ribbon scenic byways. Back in the city, culture and creative consumption prevail, with the number of art galleries rivaled by a growing roster of craft breweries. The prime attraction here are tours of the 8,000-acre Biltmore Estate, featuring America’s largest home, built in 1895 for George Vanderbilt.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Some mountain towns are more touristy that others — and for those who like things a bit kitschy — Gatlinburg is bound to please. The list of carnival-like attractions includes the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum, the Hollywood Stars Cars Museum, Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, a moonshine distillery, a host of Branson-style music shows, and the area’s largest and perhaps most touristy attraction, Dollywood, in neighboring Pigeon Forge.

Situated at an elevation of just 1,289 feet, Gatlinburg is one of the least mountainous of our eight selected alpine outposts — but it is a quick ride from downtown on the 2.1-mile aerial tram to Ober Gatlinburg, Tennessee’s only ski area, where the air is a bit thinner at 3,300 feet.

Kitsch aside, there’s more than ample opportunity for recreation around the town billed as the Gateway to Smoky Mountains National Park, including skiing and other winter sports, white-water rafting, fishing, zip-lining, horseback riding, golf and hiking on more than 600 miles of trails.

North Conway, New Hampshire

It is often called the quintessential New England village — with a twist — because it is even more often cited as an adventure haven. Like the Moab of the Northeast. For example, USA Today named North Conway the “Top 10 Best Small Town for Year-Round Adventure” in 2018. The same year it was voted No. 2 on the “Best Ski Town” list by the newspaper’s readers. This ranking shouldn’t come as a surprise, because there are 13 ski areas within a half-hour drive of the town.

Set among rolling hills and sparkling lakes and streams, this idyllic town is surrounded by the 660,000-acre White Mountain National Forest and the town is the jumping off place for a visit to Mount Washington, the highest point in the Northeast at 6,289 feet.

Famous, or better, infamous, for its weather, Mount Washington recorded the strongest wind gust (231 mph) ever logged in the U.S. You can drive there or take the Cog Railway to the summit. Attractions especially geared to adventurists include the International Mountain Climbing School and Monkey Trunks Zipline Park, featuring 10 ziplines and 60 climbing challenges.

Golfers know to follow the Road to the Links where they’ll find 10 golf courses offering more than 170 holes. Sightseeing is best accomplished by joining a vintage train at Conway Scenic Railroad or by taking a spin along the Kancamagus Highway (NH 112) — an hour-long drive linking Conway and Lincoln that is considered one of New England’s most scenic byways.

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Airports are using the COVID-19 lockdown to undertake essential works

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One of the most difficult projects for busy airports to manage is refurbishing or rehabilitating infrastructure such as a runway when it is still required for aircraft use. Yet, with the global lockdown, airports are finding an opportunity to undertake these works with little disruption to operations.

Press releases and local news reports from across the world tell of the work airports are undertaking to improve and repair runways and taxiways. In many cases, planned works have been brought forward to take advantage of the current situation and lack of traffic.

Auckland International in New Zealand is working on replacing the eastern runway touchdown area of its runway, advancing the process as COVID-19 curtails the number of flights using the airport.

André Lovatt, airport development and delivery general manager, said: “With fewer planes now flying, particularly large long-haul aircraft, we are working to carry out construction works at the earliest available time.”

Stuttgart Airport in Germany has been renewing part of its runway between April 6-22, with the airport closed to all traffic. It has now reopened to flights as the remaining construction work continues overnight until June 17.

Lima Jorge Chavez airport in Peru is set to continue runway maintenance from April 28, while works continue on building a second runway and new terminal for the airport.

London Stansted says that while the airport remains open for business with a limited number of commercial flights still operating, as well as a busy cargo operation that continues to bring vital supplies into the U.K., the current reduction in flights has enabled the engineering and airfield operational teams to close the runway during part of the day. The airport is using 200 contractors to perform resurfacing and heavy maintenance on its 3,048-foot strip.

Image: Stansted Airport Limited

London Stansted’s asset maintenance services director, Kathy Morrisey, said: “The runway is obviously a key asset for the airport, and it’s critical it is maintained to the highest standard, so while we are in a situation none of us would wish to be in, we are using this as an opportunity to carry out essential work to ensure the airport is able to return to normal as quickly as possible once the current restrictions are lifted.”

Still planning for a return to growth, Istanbul’s new airport, which opened a little over a year ago, has also announced it is on track to open its third runway in June. It will become only the second airport in Europe (after Amsterdam Schiphol) capable of operating three parallel runways simultaneously.

Kadri Samsunlu, the airport’s CEO and general manager, commented: “We expect the stagnation we have been experiencing for the last couple of months to resolve very soon. Our new runway will be immensely helpful in that sense.”

It is not just large airports which are bringing works into action. Westchester County Airport, just north of New York City, is expediting plans to repave its main runway. It is able to use staff cross-trained in airport flow and maintenance to help supervise the project. Jorge Roberts, CEO of the airport’s operators said: “Given the reduced flight service to Westchester County Airport at this time, we were able to expedite this capital improvement while effectively utilizing our staff.”

While maintenance work is essential, many expansion projects may be put on hold for as the aviation industry recovers, with London Heathrow’s third runway likely to be one such example.

An anticipated reduction in demand for air travel alongside a difficult financial environment for airports and investors should see the kind of pressure to grow experienced in recent years no longer exists in the short term, and we are likely to see different airport operations strategies coming to light in the near future.

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IATA: Airline companies could turn into ghosts

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New forecasts from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) are painting a bleak picture for airline recovery. According to the IATA’s recent updated analysis, which profiled damage wrought by the COVID-19 crisis on the global airline industry, airline passenger revenues are projected to drop by $314 billion in 2020, a 55% drop over 2019.

Previously, in March, IATA estimated $252 billion in lost revenues (-44% vs. 2019) in a scenario with severe travel restrictions lasting three months.

The updated figures reflect a significant deepening of the crisis since then, and reflect the following parameters: severe domestic restrictions lasting three months; some restrictions on international travel extending beyond the initial three months; and worldwide severe impact, including Africa and Latin America, which had a small presence of the disease and were expected to be less impacted in the March analysis.

Full-year passenger demand (domestic and international) is expected to be down 48% compared to 2019. The two main elements driving this are:

Overall economic developments: The world is heading for recession. The economic shock of the COVID-19 crisis is expected to be at its most severe in Q2 when GDP is expected to shrink by 6% (by comparison, GDP shrank by 2% at the height of the global financial crisis).

Passenger demand closely follows GDP progression. The impact of reduced economic activity in Q2 alone would result in an 8% fall in passenger demand in the third quarter.

Travel restrictions: Travel restrictions will deepen the impact of recession on demand for travel. The most severe impact is expected to be in Q2. As of early April, the number of flights globally was down 80% compared to 2019 in large part owing to severe travel restrictions imposed by governments to fight the spread of the virus.

Domestic markets could still see the start of an upturn in demand beginning in the third quarter in a first stage of lifting travel restrictions. International markets, however, will be slower to resume as it appears likely that governments will retain these travel restrictions longer.

“The industry’s outlook grows darker by the day. The scale of the crisis makes a sharp V-shaped recovery unlikely. Realistically, it will be a U-shaped recovery with domestic travel coming back faster than the international market. We could see more than half of passenger revenues disappear. That would be a $314 billion hit.

“Several governments have stepped up with new or expanded financial relief measures but the situation remains critical. Airlines could burn through $61 billion of cash reserves in the second quarter alone. That puts at risk 25 million jobs dependent on aviation. And without urgent relief, many airlines will not survive to lead the economic recovery,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO.

Financial bailout

De Juniac underscored that governments must include aviation in stabilization packages. Airlines are at the core of a value chain that supports some 65.5 million jobs worldwide. Each of the 2.7 million airline jobs supports 24 more jobs in the economy.

“Financial relief for airlines today should be a critical policy measure for governments. Supporting airlines will keep vital supply chains working through the crisis. Every airline job saved will keep 24 more people employed. And it will give airlines a fighting chance of being viable businesses that are ready to lead the recovery by connecting economies when the pandemic is contained. If airlines are not ready, the economic pain of COVID-19 will be unnecessarily prolonged,” said de Juniac.

IATA suggests:

Direct financial support to passenger and cargo carriers to compensate for reduced revenues and liquidity attributable to travel restrictions imposed as a result of COVID-19;

Loans, loan guarantees and support for the corporate bond market by governments or central banks. The corporate bond market is a vital source of finance for airlines, but the eligibility of corporate bonds for central bank support needs to be extended and guaranteed by governments to provide access for a wider range of companies.

Tax relief: Rebates on payroll taxes paid to date in 2020 and/or an extension of payment terms for the rest of 2020, along with a temporary waiver of ticket taxes and other government-imposed levies.

Passengers — business or leisure — will also need to have their confidence restored, de Juniac noted in his remarks.

“I don’t underestimate the challenges that are ahead. The keys to success, however, are well-known in the aviation world — cooperation and harmonization,” he said. “Successive unilateral actions by states can shut down aviation as we have seen. But unilateral actions cannot restart aviation. Governments must work with each other and together with the industry.”

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When can we start traveling again?

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When will the COVID-19 pandemic end? When can we go out again? When will we be able to travel again?

The damage of the COVID-19 pandemic to the global economy has been devastating. For most of us, making a trip to grocery stores or restaurants for pickup has suddenly become a luxury outdoor experience.

Since California issued its stay-at-home order in mid-March, over 316 million people in the U.S. and Puerto Rico have been urged to stay at home. The U.S. State Department also issued a “Level 4: Do Not Travel” advisory for all international travel.

The travel and hospitality industry then reported record-low performance. Businesses want to see people going out and traveling again soon.

Today, many people are getting tired of staying at home. Residents from coast to coast are protesting against the stay-at-home orders. So, when can we go out and begin traveling again?

First and foremost, when will coronavirus stay-at-home orders end?

The answer varies from among states. At the earliest, some states might see hopes of reopening businesses in the late spring or early summer, like May or June. Nevertheless, that is the most optimistic expectation. New York, for example, just extended the statewide stay-at-home order to May 15, and no one is certain how many extensions will be added.

Last week, California also announced six requirements before the state will consider lifting the stay-at-home order:

  1. The state’s capacity to expand testing, track the quarantine, and isolate infected or exposed individuals.
  2. The ability to protect the most vulnerable who are at the highest risk for severe COVID-19.
  3. The ability of the hospitality and health systems to handle surges.
  4. Engaging researchers and academic partners to develop therapeutics to meet demand.
  5. The ability for businesses, schools, and child care facilities to support social distancing.
  6. The ability to determine when to reinstitute certain measures, such as the stay-at-home order, if necessary.

So, it is likely that the stay-at-home order will be reinstated sometime after it is lifted. Some researchers believe that vaccines or herd immunity are the only way for life to return to normal.

The good news is that the virus vaccine may be ready for mass production as early as in September. If that’s the case, it may seem September or October will be the time when people will begin going out without worrying about the pandemic.

Are there places doing fine at this point without placing the stay-at-home order?

Taiwan, Canada, South Korea, Georgia, and Iceland are among the places that succeeded in flattening the curve. Here are a few common measures these places took:

  • Recognized the coronavirus as a severe threat
  • Acted early, screening and testing travelers entering the border
  • Made mass diagnostic testing available
  • Tracked or monitored the self-quarantine cases
  • Effectively use isolation

In Taiwan’s case, people are able to live in their routine life inside the island to a large extent. No stay-at-home order is in place. Schools and businesses also remain open in Taiwan.

What can we expect when the stay-at-home orders are lifted?

When the stay-at-home order is lifted, I expect there will be a spark of short-term demand in local businesses. Many people feel they have been “locked” inside the house for a long time; they might want to go out to eat and shop a little bit more often than usual. There was also a surge of “revenge spending” in mainland China after the residents lived through two months of lockdowns.

The hospitality and travel industry will not sustain without the support of a healthy economy. It may take a long time for the economy to fully recover even though some believe it will bounce back in “months.” Before the economy has fully recovered, it is likely that:

In your opinion, when will people begin traveling again? After COVID-19, what behavioral changes do you expect to see from consumers?

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Where it all began: Wuhan Airport reopens after lockdown

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COVID-19 emerged in Wuhan, a city in the Hubei Province of China. As the true scale of the virus and its potential was realized, the city’s Tianhe International Airport was one of the first to close as authorities sought to limit its spread.

Now, 11 weeks after it was closed down, the airport has reopened to flights as China begins to see light at the end of the darkness.

The first flight to arrive at Wuhan following the airport’s reopening was Xiamen Air’s MF8095 from Hangzhou shortly after 7 a.m. on the morning of April 8.

China Aviation Review reported the aircraft, a Boeing 737-800, received a water cannon salute from the airport’s fire service to celebrate flights commencing once again.

The airport will initially see a reduced schedule as carriers begin to ramp up operations and travel restrictions are lifted.

Crowds seen outside the terminal on the day of reopening represented the large number of people stranded in the city hoping to travel home. Many of the passengers on the first flights out of Wuhan were medical workers who had travelled to the source of the COVID-19 outbreak to treat the large numbers of people suffering from the virus. Now, after months in lockdown, the number of new cases has reached a level where it appears the crisis — in China at least — is almost over.

However, it is thought demand for air travel both within China and worldwide will be severely hampered for many months to come.

Disinfecting an Airport

One of the major challenges facing Tianhe International before it could be reopened was the making it safe for use again.

Beginning on April 3, all 570,000 square meters of the airport’s Terminal 3 were disinfected by a team of over 160 firefighters drafted in to make the airport ready for passengers. While the virus is unlikely to have survived on any surface for the 76 days since the airport closed, it is a necessary process to give the public peace of mind when reopening an airport and relaxing social restrictions.

The team, which was wearing protective clothing and carrying tanks of disinfectant, set about spraying every surface, seating area, trolley and public area in the building.

The airport also prepared key staff for returning to work and tested the airport and terminal’s systems ahead of the first passengers.

Hope for the Aviation Industry

Lagardère, the group which runs Terminal 3 at Wuhan, told TR Business, “The reopening is proof that everything which closed and disappeared will reopen and come back.”

It is a sign for airports across China and the rest of the world that the challenging period being faced now also comes with a period in which rebuilding can take place.

Those which have closed down or consolidated operations into fewer terminals will be looking at Wuhan and China for an indication on how to tackle reopening or ramping up passenger operations once the virus passes in their own locality.

Wuhan Tianhe International is a hub for Air China, China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines. At the time of its closure, it had long-haul links to Dubai, London, Moscow, Paris, Rome, San Francisco and Sydney. There were 28 flights from Wuhan Airport on the first day of its reopening.

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A look at the travel restrictions aimed to combat COVID-19

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The Department of State has advised all U.S. citizens to avoid international travel. At the same time, the CDC has urged residents of New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut to refrain from domestic travel due to the global impact of COVID-19 as much as possible.

Almost all regions of the world are now experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks, which has rightly led most governments to issue strict travel advisories. Quarantines and border restrictions limit traveler mobility, even in places where cases have not been reported.

While the CDC has not issued advisories or restrictions for travel within the United States, they have urged caution. New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut are now considered the epicenter of the virus, but other large cities are also in danger. Most states have reported a rise in COVID-19 cases, and within them, some areas are experiencing community spread of the disease.

Limiting all non-essential domestic travel and stepping out only for essentials need to be strictly enforced by all. The only exception is for the employees of critical industries. These include trucking, public health professionals, financial services, and food workers.

Early intervention and social distancing are the only ways to stem the spread of this virus. Unfortunately for China and later Italy and even in the U.S., steps were not taken in time, leading to such a massive pandemic. As more Americans test positive for COVID-19, people are wondering if we could have done anything better.

President Trump banned travel from China in late January and in late February restricted flights from Italy, South Korea, and Iran. But by the time these were strictly enforced, many travelers had streamed into the U.S.

By the end of February, the United States had a few dozen confirmed cases and just one death from the disease. On March 11, the president barred most travel from Europe. The State Department also issued advisories against international travel, but by the time these were announced and enforced, thousands of travelers had already poured in from China and Europe.

Had we acted faster as a nation and set tighter travel restrictions, the picture would have been different. Now, the U.S. is facing the ugly truth with deaths over 25,000 and total cases reaching 600,000.

Most airlines have suspended and reduced international flights as well as domestic flights. Southwest Airlines announced that those traveling through or from New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, or New Orleans must self-quarantine for two weeks as per specific state guidelines.

Trains, buses, and other kinds of interstate highway transportation have also been curtailed for safety or reduced though not completely stopped. Amtrak has reduced its typical Northeast Corridor service.

In the absence of strict federal domestic travel restrictions, governors of more than 40 states have stepped in to stem the spread of COVID-19. They have issued stay-at-home orders and actively discouraged interstate travel by announcing quarantine requirements for travelers.

State police in Rhode Island were also pulling over drivers with other state license plates on Interstate 95 and other highways and suggested they follow a mandatory 14-day quarantine. Those who wish would learn more about places to self-quarantine can visit this link.

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6 of America’s newest state parks

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America is justly famous for its broad array of 400-plus national park sites — but the country’s more than 10,000 state parks offer an even greater opportunity for outdoor adventure and recreation. State preserves attract almost 810 million visitors a year (more than twice the number that visit national parks), and there’s undoubtedly one or more of them near you.

“The singularity of state parks is their meld of nature, history, local culture and ordinary life,” says Peter Kujawinski in The New York Times. “Here you find rites of passage, first campfires, an escape from work, and a quick, cheap break.”

Although many states have temporarily closed their parks in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, there will be a day in the not-too-distant future when the barriers come down and our urge to get outdoors will be satisfied. So how about someplace new and different? — like one of the country’s half-dozen newest state parks.

The road to establishing a state park can be a long one, but some states are taking the initiative to preserve and protect more of their natural and cultural treasures. Each of the following parks, all established since 2018, offers a unique experience. And, since they’re so new and still under the radar, you can beat the crowds if you go soon.

Nisqually State Park, Washington

Located just a few miles west of Eatonville, off Highway 7, and just a stone’s throw from Mount Rainier National Park, Nisqually is Washington’s newest state park. Developed through a partnership between the State of Washington and the Nisqually Indian tribe, the park provides 1,300 acres of forest, prairie and riverside trails ideal for hiking and horseback riding.

Tucked on a spit of land between the Nisqually and Mashel Rivers, and adjacent to Ohop Creek, it is a prime location for adventure and nature enthusiasts. The park has been 30 years in the making and continues to develop. The trailhead boasts an ADA-accessible restroom and paved parking area as well as an area for horse trailers, complete with a hitching post. An interpretive kiosk addresses the area’s historical and cultural significance.

www.parks.state.wa.us/336/Nisqually, 360-902-8500

Walker River State Recreation Area, Nevada

The creation of Nevada’s newest state park, known as the Walker River State Recreation Area, became official in September 2018. This extraordinary 12,856-acre spread of rustic ranchland, strung along a picturesque 29-mile stretch of the East Walker River, came as a gift to the state from the non-profit Walker Basin Conservancy.

The park is composed of four units, each an historic ranch dating back more than 100 years: Pitchfork Ranch, Rafter 7 Ranch, Flying M Ranch and Nine-Mile Ranch. Currently, Pitchfork Ranch and sections of Nine-Mile Ranch are open for exploration. Visitors are invited to experience camping, hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing. Remaining park units will open to the public over time, as infrastructure is completed.

parks.nv.gov/parks/walker-river, 775-463-1609

Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park, Kansas

Established by the Kansas Legislature in 2018, this 332-acre park encompasses a striking display of fragile but ruggedly spectacular geologic formations. Well-marked trails lead hikers along a mile-long stretch of 100-foot-tall cliffs and spires of eroded Niobrara Chalk — colorful layers of rock deposited as sediment in a vast inland sea some 85 million years ago.

To the delight of bird watchers, the park is a vital habitat for a variety of species, including ferruginous hawks, rock wrens and flycatchers. The park is easily accessed from Interstate 70 in western Kansas.

ksoutdoors.com/State-Parks/Locations/Little-Jerusalem-Badlands, 620-872-2064

Image: The Smoky Mountain News

Pisgah View Ranch State Park, North Carolina

In July 2019, North Carolina’s 41st state park was signed into existence by Gov. Roy Cooper — converting the 1,600-acre Pisgah View Ranch into conserved land. The Tar Heel state’s newest park encompasses a scenic mix of mountains, meadows and headwater streams, with much of the property offering splendid views of iconic 5,721-foot Mount Pisgah.

The ranch has been owned by the Cogburn family since 1790 and was opened to the public in the 1940s, offering rustic lodging, camping, hiking, mountaineering and horseback riding. The state has taken over renovation and repurposing of the property and will reportedly expand the current trail system and spruce up old camping facilities.

www.visitnc.com/listing/R6pg/pisgah-view-ranch, 800-847-4862

Wolf Den Run State Park, Maryland

Maryland’s newest park is the state’s only preserve offering access to off-road vehicles (ORVs). The property features a variety of terrain including 1,700 acres of mixed forest, rocky bluffs rising as high as 900 feet, trout streams and nearly three miles of frontage on the Potomac River.

The park’s unusual name is derived from a small stream that runs through the area. ORV enthusiasts can test their skills on 12.5 miles of rocky, bumpy, muddy terrain in the Huckleberry Rocks section of the park, although reservations and a nominal fee are required. Others can enjoy the more traditional state park offerings such as hiking, horseback riding and fishing.

www.dnr.maryland.gov/publiclands/pages/western/wolf-den-run.aspx, 301-334-9180

Image: Vermont State Parks

Taconic Mountains Ramble State Park, Vermont

This extraordinary little 204-acre park — Vermont’s newest — came to the Green Mountain State as a gift from author and documentary filmmaker Carson Davidson who passed away in 2016. Davidson’s passion for conservation and community involvement was his inspiration for creating Taconic Mountains Ramble — a bucolic setting consisting of meadows, forest, hiking trails and a pristine Japanese Garden built by Davidson himself.

During his lifetime, he welcomed the public to access his land providing they observed three simple rules: no overnight stays, no smoking and no fires. Those same three rules prevail today under the state’s jurisdiction and, while there are no visitor facilities other than a portable toilet, the park is a lovely and relaxing spot to spend some time.

www.vtstateparks.com/taconic.html, 802-273-2997

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Will Airbnb guests want to stay in chain hotels instead after COVID-19?

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COVID-19 has hit the economy so hard that it could take three years for the U.S. to recover.

Most states have paused non-essential businesses and put a stay-at-home order in place, where restaurants can only offer curbside pick-up or delivery service. Nobody goes out.

Recently, the U.S. State Department issued a “Level 4” travel advisory for all international travel. As of April 5, seven of the 48 contiguous states, including Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Nevada, plus Alaska and Hawaii, require almost all incoming travelers to self-quarantine for 14 days. Nobody travels.

Hotel indicators record unprecedented lows

The travel and hospitality industry has been hit the hardest, with mass layoffs and record-low key performance indicators (KPIs). According to STR’s lodging report for the week ending on March 28, the industry’s KPIs hit “unprecedented lows.” STR is the leading data analytics provider for the lodging industry. For the week of March 22 to 28:

  • Occupancy: 22.6%, a minus 67.5% change from the same period of last year (March 24 to 30, 2019)
  • Average daily rate (ADR): $79.92, a minus 39.4 percent change
  • Revenue per available room (RevPAR): $18.05, a minus 80.3% change
  • The industry is expected to see the worst occupancy in 2020 on record

Hotel chains are closing en masse. The top 25 markets in the U.S., where usually have many Airbnb listings, reported even lower KPIs than the national average:

  • Occupancy: 19.6%, a minus 74.6% change
  • ADR: $89.71, a minus 43.9% change
  • RevPAR: $17.60, a minus 85.7% change.

Airbnb, too, is not doing well

Airbnb just lowered its internal valuation to $26 billion in April, down from $31 billion in the company’s previous valuation. According to AirDNA.co, a tech firm that collects and provides short-term residential rental data:

  • The global Airbnb supply remained relatively little change.
  • The weekly Airbnb revenue for New York City dropped from $12.5 million in the week of Jan. 5 to $6 million in the week of March 15, a minus 52% change.
  • The weekly revenue for San Francisco dropped from $4.4 million in the week of Jan. 5 to $1.8 million in the week of March 15, a minus 59% change.

Keep in mind that on March 15, neither San Francisco nor New York City had placed the stay-at-home order yet.

Comparing to the AirDNA.co data for Beijing, a place with a lockdown order earlier, bookings dropped from 40,508 in the week of January 5 to 1,655 in the week of March 1. That was a 96% drop.

Looking at the yearly trend (March 2020 vs. March 2019), another AirDNA.co report reveals some new trends:

  • Rural areas reported the most significant yearly gains in the month at $1,320 million, a $280 increase from the previous year.
  • Suburban areas saw growth from $294 million to $345 million.
  • On the contrary, the revenue in urban markets dropped from $706 million to $631 million.

It is important to note that such a yearly trend was released on March 23, 2020. It is likely that the coronavirus outbreak has stronger negative impacts on urban markets, in which more confirmed infected cases were reported in large metropolitan areas. It is also plausible that people might choose to stay outside of urban areas before the stay-at-home order takes effect.

Will today’s Airbnb guests want to stay in chain hotels instead when the pandemic is over?

It will probably take a long time before the industry bounce back to the 2019 peak even after the pandemic is over. When people start traveling again, however, will chain hotels win some Airbnb guests back?

Referring to the pros of cons of staying in a hotel vs. an Airbnb facility, hotels appear to be a winner. For example,

Let’s hope the worst of the pandemic will end soon. Then, everything will go back to normal.

When people begin traveling again, will chain hotels become a more attractive option for the travelers who usually stay at Airbnb?

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Boeing freezes hiring as stocks plunge

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Boeing stocks have reportedly dropped to a 46-year low, as airline travel restrictions and new reports of company malfeasance further limit buyer confidence and challenge the company’s ability to withstand vulnerable market forces.

Boeing shares dropped 18% to $189.08 on March 11 — the largest single-day percentage drop in decades: “Boeing’s plunge shaved more than 284 points off the Dow Jones Industrial Average helping send the blue-chip index into a bear market.” Canceled orders are much to blame here, as the company reported February’s overall net order number was down 28 planes.

Boeing also recently declined to bid on the lucrative contract to help build the Air Force’s “ next-generation intercontinental ballistic missile” system sporting nuclear warheads — further impacting company profits.

The one-time leader in the commercial aerospace industry, the company is the largest manufacturing exporter in the U.S. with products worth “hundreds of millions of dollars” requiring “thousands of suppliers.” Now, in an effort to stay afloat by preserving cash in a bear market awash with coronavirus uncertainty, the company has instituted a hiring freeze, with travel and overtime also halted for employees. Axios states that the Council of Economic Advisers has estimated that Boeing’s problems “…cut U.S. GDP in Q2 2019 by 0.4 percentage points.”

Boeing’s performance impacts overall economic health, and we haven’t seen the worst of it yet.

Also hurting the company’s bottom line are two new reports. The U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure released a report charging Boeing with five major problems.

Cost-cutting undermined safety. Mistakes led to software malfunctions. A company “culture of concealment” withheld critical information. Employees had conflicts of interest with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The company exerted influence over FAA protocols. These five problems led to two fatal crashes killing 346 people over one year ago.

These findings will make it harder for Boeing to defend itself in court against 7,000 Max pilots who have launched a class-action lawsuit arguing “that the company’s practices put the lives of pilots, crew members and passengers at risk.”

In fact, the one-year anniversary of Boeing’s Ethiopia crash was March 10. Now, a new interim report from Ethiopian Ministry of Transport’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau shifts blame from the carrier or employees to the company and its faulty equipment, stating: “Boeing’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) made it impossible for crew to regain control of the aircraft.”

This viewpoint further strengthens victims’ families and pilots’ cases that lives have been recklessly endangered by greed and malfeasance. Crash victims have criticized former CEO Dennis Muilenburg’s exorbitant $62 million compensation package, while a company fund has started paying victims’ families.

What will become of Boeing in the months ahead is intricately tied to successful coronavirus containment, as ongoing compensation and accountability measures are awaited by company employees and victims’ families.

Boeing union members are currently split on a new contract, while an employee has tested positive for coronavirus — placing unions on high alert as the company’s moves to secure workplace health and safety will be heavily scrutinized in an already hostile work environment.

Attention to employee and consumer safety would be a new ethos for CEO David Calhoun’s company. The “double burden” of globalization’s transportation sector production pressures resulted in criminal decisions that didn’t pay off. Boeing’s current $2.44 billion negative cash flow is a dramatic decline from 2018’s $15.3 billion positive cash flow.

These losses will hit Boeing employees hard as the European travel ban takes effect, victims’ families are slowly paid, and employees make their case in court against the former aviation giant turned criminally negligent aircraft manufacturer.

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Retracing reminiscences from the Blue Ridge Mountains

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Within the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, we found the Peaks of Otter to be a charming escape from the anxieties and fears of today’s world. These mountains provide quiet sanctuary, and there’s no shortage of interesting trivia.

Its name comes from the Cherokee word “Otari,” meaning “high places,” and perhaps from otters downriver. Early settlers included Polly Wood, a widow who opened the area’s first inn in 1834 within her log cabin home where settlers could stay the night and get a meal. By the late 1800s, the Peaks of Otter would be the home of some 20 families, with a school, a church and a hotel for travelers.

Thomas Jefferson and Robert E. Lee are just two of many luminaries who have visited and camped at the Peaks of Otter. Jefferson once wrote “these Peaks of Otter, are thought to be of greater height, measured from their base, than any others in our country, and perhaps North America.” Of course, back in Jefferson’s day he had no knowledge of the Rocky Mountains.

Today, the Peaks of Otter are an oasis, a haven in the middle of a mountain wilderness. A place to end your day in peaceful repose. The lodge, motel, restaurant and campground sit on a hillside providing a magnificent view of the Shenandoah Valley, the adjoining mountains and Abbott Lake.

Evidence found under Abbott Lake indicates Native Americans have been inhabiting this area to hunt, pass through, and rest for at least the past 8,000 years. In the spirit of those first Americans, Diane and I chose a room on the ground floor with an outdoor patio where we could sit and enjoy an evening cocktail while viewing the colorful sunset over Abbott’s Lake and Sharps Peak. Some guests prefer walking the trail or sitting under a tree near the lakeshore experiencing peaceful serenity while watching local wildlife.

Driving north from the Peaks, we entered the Shenandoah National Park. The highway is known as the “Skyline Drive” a 105-mile winding road overlooking the Shenandoah Valley through some truly beautiful Virginia countryside. Autumn and spring visits are especially colorful to drive the road, mile after glorious mile. This is undoubtedly one of America’s loveliest byways.

Big Meadows is a grassy, wide-open meadow, a dramatic change to the wooded forest of the park. We have many fond memories of weekend outings at the lodge and campground with our young children, the boulders we climbed, the trails we explored and the viewing of whitetail deer.

Is it true when people say, “Virginia is for Lovers?” Perhaps! I believe Virginia is for anyone who admires natural beauty with rolling hills, sandy seashores and majestic mountains. It is a land that possesses hospitable colonial charm in an age that has “gone with the wind.” It is a land where people appreciate the memoirs of great men who formed our Republic. Old Virginia is rich in the annals of America’s most turbulent years.

Our next destination is lodging at the beautiful Bavarian Inn beside the Potomac River. Our travel route takes us through some of the most ferocious battlefields of the Civil War. Near Sharpsburg, we passed through an area known as the “Battle at Antietam.”

Antietam is a creek running through Maryland and the battle has been recognized as the bloodiest single-day battle in American history with 23,000 casualties. Many historians consider the Battle at Antietam a stalemate, with so many dead and wounded on both sides. I agree there was no significant victory on either side. The war continued, leading to Gettysburg and another clash of dragons.

The Bavarian Inn is without a doubt one of our favorite lodges, the atmosphere is Germanic, with gracious hospitality, and exquisite European cuisine. It is located in historic Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and for over 40 years has been hosting tourists and dignitaries from all nations. It was created by Erwin and Carol Asam, who purchased the Greystone Manor in 1977, completing a lifelong dream together with two sons. The manor became their dream restaurant and their home.

The Inn has several dining areas. Diane and I prefer the intimacy of the Rathskeller, a large area below the main floor of the reception building. The Rathskeller, to our liking, has several dimly lit rooms in a more casual, intimate atmosphere. It was the perfect setting after a day’s drive; it reminded us of what it would be like in an old-world pub surrounded with rich, exposed wood paneling, scenic landscape paintings, and a ceiling of stain glassed lanterns.

Our setting was at a table surrounded by old wooden barrels used in the production of wine. Speaking of wine, Diane decided on Centorri, a French red wine, and I a Tanqueray Gin martini with schwarzwaelder kaese spaetzle and black forest ham as an appetizer while we waited for dinner to be served. I can’t pronounce it, but it was damn good eating.

Our dinner was served by a very personable young woman who made excellent suggestions for dinner. Diane chose the lump crab cake with kaese spaetzle and I the smoked pheasant breast with maple bacon bourbon. They were so delicious.

Ending the evening with a brisk walk to our room, we called it a day. We slept in a large king size bed wrapped in soft cuddly warm blankets hemmed in by carved English woodwork. Slumber came rapidly with the pleasing sound of trickling water of the Potomac River passing by outside our window. Such was the day on the road. Good night to all, sleep well!

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