COVID-19 Drove Exercise Outdoors. Will It Last?

After months of lockdown limbo, gyms and fitness centers in New York State are beginning to reopen. The pandemic drove millions to shift exercise outside, to parks and beyond, in the meantime. It seems like everybody’s getting out there — including celebs like DJ Khaled, who says when he’s biking a trail, he’s “just vibin’.” Experts say those healthy new habits have been beneficial — not only for health, but for public access, community ties, and climate change. Will they last?

For many, a good chunk of quarantine has been spent breaking out their old pair of running shoes or revisiting old grade-school gym class exercises — often in open air. On the streets and stretches of green within the Hudson Valley, people like Ryan Naccarato have adapting by using their outdoor surroundings for a workout.

Since July, the Kingston native has been holding 2-3 boot camps per week, sessions in which participants run, jump, squat, skip and climb their way around the various pavements and parks of the historic city. A lifelong athlete and now school athletic director, Naccarato started out like his students: counting the days till he could get back into the weight room. At first, he was blind to the opportunities around him. 

“I was just outside — riding my bike, walking, running the streets of downtown — and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, there are so many elements you can use to get a workout,’” he says. A few weeks of planning online and off eventually had him and the team at Hudson Valley Ambition relay racing and racking up reps at spots such as Hasbrouck Park downtown and Kingston Point Beach by the Hudson River. Regardless of your goals, the public spots around you can act as training grounds for your own pursuits.

The kinds of activities that encompass physical fitness have expanded greatly since the bygone era of Muscle Beach in the 1940s and ’50s, when disciplined enthusiasts would publicly perform feats of strength and acrobatics glamorized by their outdoor setting: beachside, under the golden California sun.

The public obsession with physical fitness really hit a boom with the ’60s discovery of aerobics or cardio, which emphasized the need to get the lungs pushing and blood pumping. Its subsequent exercise crazes, both largely outdoors (jogging) and in (dance aerobics), peaked in the ’80s, according to Natalia Petrzela, an associate professor of American history at The New School who is writing a book about American fitness culture.

Outdoor yoga practice with BeBhakti Yoga Center at Scenic Hudson’s Long Dock Park in Beacon, N.Y. (Photo courtesy Lauren Magarelli)

The advent of the wellness industry in the late 2000s led to an explosion in at-home fitness options — but often with exorbitant price-tags that limited widespread access. Like gyms, they often took electricity and temperature control as well. That power often wasn’t cleanly produced, leading exercise to contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Enter parks, whose free facilities offer a platform for thousands looking for safe, open spaces during a lockdown. They’ve helped level things out. “You have this resurgence of the most accessible forms of fitness: people going walking, running, playing outside, using city tennis courts, et cetera,” Petrzela says. “That is something that I hope that we can clearly build on as a culture and a community.” 

Parks improve public health just as much as they do community ties. A robust body of research says that even a brief time spent outdoors can lead to tremendous gains in a person’s physical and mental health. It can also keep people in greater touch with natural rhythms, from the circadian sleep-wake cycle spurred by daylight and darkness to the changing seasons and weather patterns.

“The beautiful thing about parks is that you don’t have to be physically active in that space to enjoy the benefits of that space,” says Sadiya Muqueeth, Director of Community Health at the Trust for Public Land. The trust promotes the proliferation of green spaces for the 100 million people nationwide who don’t live within a 10-minute walk from a park. 

Hikers (Photo: Greg Rosnke / Unsplash)

Parks also serve as natural cooling centers in cities by buffering the heat held by asphalt and concrete and dropping the surrounding area’s temperature by several degrees, Muqueeth says. Summer 2020 has already been one of the hottest on record, and with climate change underway, we’ll all need some relief from the heat waves of the future. 

For now, new outdoor-workout enthusiasts like Naccarato recommend starting small and working your way up no matter what activity you choose. If you can’t run a mile, jog, and if you can’t jog, try a brisk walk. Don’t limit yourself to just moving at a designated time. Stretching throughout the day can help you maintain the mobility that sometimes gets overlooked in a machine-centered gym routine.

And of course, don’t take the scenery or structures around you for granted. Whether it’s a state park or a playground, an open-air environment could be the boost you need to keep at it. 

Watch Out for Spotted Lanternflies

Spotted Lanternfly
Spotted Lanternfly (Photo: Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture,

The spotted lanternfly is one beautiful bug. With its wings outspread, an adult resembles an abstract painting, sporting geometric splotches of red, yellow, black and white. Unfortunately, it’s also a very destructive bug — which has led to an all-out effort to prevent it from infesting New York State.

And YOU can support that effort.

Native to China, Vietnam and other parts of Asia, Lycorma delicatula immigrated to the U.S. in 2014, arriving on shipments of stone countertops delivered to Berks County, Pennsylvania. Since then, they have spread into New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. Single specimens of adults or egg masses also have been found in 15 New York counties, including Albany, Orange, Ulster and Westchester.

Spotted Lanternfly (Photo: Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture,

What’s the big to-do? While adult spotted lanternflies feed primarily on ailanthus, also known as tree-of-heaven and itself an invasive species, nymphs feast on some 70 species of plants, including grape vines; fruit trees like apple, plum, cherry and peach; as well as hardwoods such as maples, sycamores and poplars. They suck the sap, stressing the plants and making them more vulnerable to other harmful insects and diseases. In addition, the insects secrete a sticky substance, known as “honeydew,” which attracts molds that limit the growth and yield of fruit trees.   

Vineyards in Berks County have been devastated by spotted lanternflies. In New York, they pose a direct threat to the state’s grape and apple harvests, which combine to generate $358 million annually, as well as the state’s $8.8-billion forest products industry.

How you can help keep spotted lanternflies out of N.Y.

Step 1: Be on the lookout

Spotted lanternflies have a distinctive appearance, unlike any other local insects, so if you see one, you’ll know what it is — provided you know what to look for. To get started, check out these illustrated ID tips.

Spotted Lanternfly Eggs (Photo: Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture,

Step 2: Check for hitchhikers

Despite their name, spotted lanternflies are not very good fliers — they much prefer “hitchhiking.” New York State has established checkpoints along main transportation corridors and in cities and rail yards to search for insects coming in on commercial shipments from infested areas. If you travel to a place where spotted lanternflies are a problem — this map shows confirmed locations — check your car or any outdoor equipment for adults, nymphs or egg masses before returning home.

Immature Spotted Lanternflies (Photo: Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture,

Step 3: Notify NYS

Finally, if you think you see a spotted lanternfly in New York, take some photos and either email them — with the location — to or fill out this online form. Someone will get in touch with you shortly. If possible, collect a specimen and place it in alcohol or the freezer.

With a little effort, combined with some luck, we can limit the spread of these pests into the Hudson Valley and the rest of N.Y.

New Fungi on N.Y. Apples

Apple Bitter Rot

Hudson Valley apple orchards have a growing new worry on their hands. Scientists have identified a pair of fungal pathogens not previously known in the region that cause the disease dubbed “bitter rot” — which, as the name suggests, causes warm-weather fruits to decay and die. The new species were found infecting fruits both in the field and in storage. And it’s only likely to get worse. 

Apple Bitter Rot (Photo by Srdjan Goran Acimovic)

The team behind the discovery, led by plant pathologists at Cornell University, says bitter rot in New York has been known to wipe out upwards of 20 percent of a given orchard’s crop on average, and local incidence has been steadily rising in recent years. For organic farms, the losses could be as grave as 100 percent. 

A Known Fungus Makes Its Debut in New York

It’s a new development for a familiar foe; bitter rot, brought on by fungi from the genus Colletotrichum, has long wrought devastation on fruiting plants all over the world, from apples and peaches to papaya and citrus. Of the newly identified species, the researchers say one (C. chrysophilum) shouldn’t even be in apples at all, as it’s typically known to infect tropical and subtropical fruits like bananas and cashews. 

“Not anywhere in the world has this species been described as a pathogen of apples,” Srdjan Acimovic, of Cornell AgriTech’s Hudson Valley Research Laboratory and senior author on the paper, told Scenic Hudson. 

But that’s not the most baffling part of the discovery. The second species the researchers identified is entirely new to science, meaning it has never been described before in any capacity. “It was shocking to us,” Acimovic said. “We were confused.”

Finding one species in an extremely abnormal host seemed peculiar enough, though the unprecedented weather conditions of the past few years — particularly in 2016, 2017, and 2018 — could provide some explanation, but finding a new species altogether seemed almost inconceivable.

“People didn’t believe us,” Acimovic says. “We had longstanding indications” that what they’d found was indeed a new species, he explained, “but we had to prove it.” And they did. 

An Unknown Fungus Is Identified and Named After New York

The team, collaborating with researchers from Pennsylvania State University, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and Louisiana State University, sampled apples from roughly 20 farms, including a handful out of state, and was able to isolate the disease-causing fungi in 400 separate cultures. Then, the researchers sequenced the entire genome of the new species to map out what is, essentially, its “DNA fingerprint.”

“Our collaborators all over were like, ‘You were right, this is not a known species,’” Acimovic said. 

The new species of fungus is called C. noveboracense, after the Latin name for New York.

By characterizing the species as they did, the researchers now have a better shot at understanding its ability to infect and how best to fight it. “We can learn so much from that blueprint,” Acimovic said.

Whether or not these new pathogens stick around remains to be seen. There are many factors that will play into their persistence (or lack thereof), including management and weather conditions, and there’s no telling just yet what climate change will mean for it all. Conditions in the Hudson Valley are already somewhat favorable for a disease like bitter rot; the area along the Hudson River Basin represents the largest “pocket” of a hot, humid summer continental climate in this region, the researcher explained, alongside smaller swaths along Lake Ontario and the Finger Lakes. 

These are “warm weather pathogens,” Acimovic notes, and the rising trend of higher temperatures and heavier rainfall in recent years certainly is “fitting the pattern.”

Cornell runs an outreach program to connect local growers with resources and technical assistance. Farmers in the Hudson Valley who think they might be affected by bitter rot can contact Cornell Cooperative Extension specialist Dan Donahue for support.

Don’t Touch That Plant!

Cow Parsnip

Trees, shrubs and wildflowers contribute so much beauty to the Hudson Valley — and joy to our lives — but here are 6 plants you definitely should stay away from while enjoying the outdoors. We’ve placed them in the order of harm they can cause — from permanent scarring to a temporary annoyance — and provided treatment tips if you’re unlucky enough to come into contact with one.


Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum)

Native to the Caucasus Mountains, giant hogweed was introduced into the U.S. in the early 20th century as an ornamental garden plant. The federal government has classified it as a “noxious weed.”

Look: Giant hogweed is like Queen Anne’s lace on steroids (both are members of the carrot family), growing up to 14 feet or more, with white flowers spanning 2.5 feet in diameter. Click here for more ID tips.

Clipping Giant Hogweed Flowers (Photo: NYS DEC on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))

Location: Basically anywhere, but it prefers open sites with abundant light, like fields, yards and roadsides.

Threat:  Simply brushing up against it can release oils whose exposure to sunlight results in a nasty burn and the possibility of permanent scarring.

Treatment: Wash affected area with soap and warm water immediately, and keep it out of sunlight for 48 hours.

FYI:  If you spot it, contact the NYSDEC’s Giant Hogweed Information Line (845 256 3111; and a team will be dispatched to get rid of it. NYS law prohibits possession of giant hogweed “with the intent to sell, import, purchase, transport, introduce or propagate.”

Cow Parsnip (Heracleum maximum)

Cousin of giant hogweed, this is the only member of the plant genus Heracleum native to North America. Though uncommon, it does grow in New York.

Look: Smaller version of giant hogweed, growing 3-10 feet tall with similar white flowers. Click here for more ID tips.

Cow Parsnip (Photo: Thayne Tuason on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0))

Location: Woodlands, forest openings, grasslands, stream and river edges, along roadsides.

Threat: Though slightly less toxic than giant hogweed, contact with its light-sensitive sap can cause a blistering rash taking months to heal and sometimes leaving permanent scars.

Treatment: Wash affected area with soap and warm water immediately, and keep it out of sunlight for 48 hours.

FYI: Native Americans considered cow parsnip a spring delicacy. They peeled off its outer layer (which contains the sap) to eat the succulent young shoots. For this reason, it’s sometimes called Indian celery.

Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)

Native to Eurasia, wild parsnip may have “escaped” to the U.S. because of its close resemblance in look and smell to cultivated parsnips.

Look: 4-5 feet tall with hundreds of yellow flowers that bloom in early summer. Click here for more ID tips.

Wild Parsnip (Photo: jinjian liang on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))

Location:  Along roadsides, in pastures and abandoned fields. Basically, anyplace with disturbed soil and lacking native vegetation.

Threat: Exposure to its sap produces a burning rash. Affected areas can remain discolored and sensitive to sunlight for up to two years.

Treatment: Wash affected area with soap and warm water immediately, and keep it out of sunlight for 48 hours.

FYI: Wild parsnip is especially prevalent in the lower Hudson Valley and Catskills. While the roots are edible, common sense advises sticking to garden-variety parsnips.  


Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)

At least 70% of Americans are allergic to this native plant.

Look: “Hairy” vine whose leaves feature three “leaflets” (“Leaves of three, let it be!”) that go from red in spring to green in summer and back to red in fall. White berries. Click here for more ID tips.

Poison Ivy (Photo: Jo-Anne Asuncion)

Location: Primarily in wooded areas where sunshine filters through, but also in exposed rocky areas, open fields and places with disturbed soils. Can be found both on the ground or growing up tree trunks.

Threat: Contact with the plant — either directly or by touching pets or objects exposed to it — or breathing fumes of burning plants can cause a reddish, itchy rash and blistering that can last for weeks.

Treatment: Wash affected areas ASAP with soap (dish soap preferable) and cool water (warm water will open the pores, allowing the oil to spread). Calamine lotion, oatmeal baths and baking soda can offer temporary relief. In extreme cases, see a doctor.

FYI: Deer and bears eat poison ivy plants, while birds feast on its berries. Urushiol, the sticky oil responsible for the rash, doesn’t protect the plant from predators, but helps it retain water.

Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix)

Though uncommon, it’s native to NY.

Look: Either a small, slender tree, or multi-stemmed shrub, it features grey bark, leaves with 7-13 leaflets and clusters of small yellow flowers followed by small whitish berries. Click here for more ID tips.

Poison Sumac with yellow flowers
Poison Sumac with yellow flowers (Photo: Joshua Mayer on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0))

Location: Swamps and peat bogs.

Threat: Contact can cause a painful, itchy rash and blisters (caused by the same oil found in poison ivy). While only hunters or birdwatchers may come into direct contact, the rash can also be contracted via inhaling smoke from burning plants.

Poison Sumac with white berries
Poison Sumac with white berries (Photo: Pictoscribe on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))

Treatment: Wash affected area ASAP with soap (preferably dish soap) and cool water. While there is no treatment for the symptoms, calamine lotion and Benadryl can offer temporary relief.

FYI: Neither staghorn nor smooth sumac, common along Hudson Valley roads, is toxic.


Stinging Nettles (American: Urtica dioica ssp. gracili & European: Urtica dioica ssp. dioica)

Encounters with both the native and invasive varieties of nettles are unpleasant but don’t typically have long-term consequences.

Look: Slender stems growing 6-8 feet tall bear leaves and clusters of tiny, light-green or tan flowers. Stems and underside of leaves feature hairs about 1 mm long. Click here for more ID tips.

Stinging Nettles (Photo: Paul M on Unsplash)

Location: Along stream banks and in areas with disturbed soils. Usually found in dense stands.

Threat: Contact with hairs releases a dose of histamine, acetylcholine, serotonin and formic acid that causes an immediate painful stinging sensation (akin to a bee sting) often followed by burning, itching or tingling that can last for several hours.

Treatment: Wash affected area with soap and water ASAP. Applying ice also can relieve burning.

FYI: Stinging nettles are nutritious and can be eaten if cooked, which deactivates the harmful chemicals. (Be sure to wear gloves when prepping.) Try these recipes for sauteed stinging nettles and stinging nettle soup.

Tackling Ticks

Rick Ostfeld holding a white-footed mouse

Enjoying outdoor exercise helps boost our immune system and relieve stress, which has never been more important. But while a walk in the woods may keep you healthy on one hand, it also makes you a prime candidate for contracting Lyme disease.

Tick-borne illnesses have doubled since 2004, and New York ranks second only to Pennsylvania in the number of cases, with the lion’s share occurring in the Hudson Valley. Fortunately, Millbrook’s Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies is at the forefront of efforts to halt this scourge.

In 2016, the institute partnered with Bard College, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NYS Department of Health, and Dutchess County Department of Behavioral and Community Health to kick off the Tick Project. Headed by Cary disease ecologist Richard Ostfeld and Bard biologist Felicia Keesing, the five-year study will determine if a neighborhood-based method of tick prevention can prove effective and safe — for people, pets and the environment.

Ongoing in 24 Dutchess County neighborhoods, the study focuses on testing the effectiveness of two pesticide-free methods to reduce tick populations. One, the Tick Control System, consists of a small box that attracts mice and chipmunks, both primarily responsible for infecting ticks with Lyme bacteria. Rodents entering the box receive a low dose of the same chemical in your dog or cat’s tick-killing collar. In the second method, a naturally occurring fungus that kills ticks is applied to vegetation. The two methods are being tested separately and in tandem.

To date, researchers have completed more than 24,000 surveys in the neighborhoods. At the end of 2020, the partners began analyzing and synthesizing these and all remaining results. Eventually, the partners hope to recommend strategies for municipalities, community groups, and others to take a bite out of Lyme disease.   

In the meantime, enjoy this compelling video presentation by Dr. Ostfeld that contains info about the Tick Project and Lyme disease in general. 

Brush Fire in the Highlands

Breakneck Fire, March 9, 2020
Breakneck Fire, March 9, 2020
Breakneck Ridge, March 9, 2020 (Photo: Pierce Johnston)

On Monday afternoon, March 9, a fire began on Breakneck Ridge near Cold Spring, N.Y. By the following morning, officials reported that 150 acres had burned on Breakneck and that fires were continuing to the north and east. Accordingly, New York State Parks has closed the following Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve trails until further notice: Wilkinson Memorial Trail, Breakneck Ridge Trail, Breakneck Bypass Trail and the Undercliff Trail. At the moment, access to the wheel house and casino remains from Scenic Hudson’s Mount Beacon Park trailhead is unaffected.

Lantern Fly

Spotted Lantern

Now, more than ever, be on the lookout for spotted lantern flies. Sightings of these EXTREMELY harmful insects, native to Asia, have just been confirmed in Manhattan’s Riverside Park as well as across the Hudson in Secaucus, N.J. — bringing them perilously close to the Hudson Valley. Last year, they also were discovered in three upstate counties and on Long Island.

The flies feed on the sap of — and can wreak great havoc on — more than 70 plant species. Favorite food sources include apple trees and grape vines, whose yields add $358 million to New York’s economy each year. The flies also secrete an unpleasant, sticky substance (known as honeydew) that can get on the hair and clothes of those trying to enjoy outdoor recreation.

Spotted Lantern
Spotted Lantern fly Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture ,

Warmer temperatures encourage the flies’ northward migration, and humans facilitate their move — the bugs lay eggs on firewood and other objects left outdoors and then transported elsewhere. While the state Department of Agriculture & Markets has issued a quarantine on certain goods from areas in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia most hard-hit by this infestation, the recent sightings show it’s not foolproof —and that your help is urgently needed to halt the insects’ spread into our region.

This fact sheet offers tips for identifying spotted lantern flies and what you can do to keep these pests in check.