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Many U.S. border communities are seeing a flood of Canadian license plates

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Now that Canada is no longer requiring COVID-19 tests from vaccinated travelers, tourism is up in many U.S. border communities. Amy Feiereisel from North Country Public Radio takes us to one of those cities just 60 miles south of Montreal.

AMY FEIEREISEL, BYLINE: The city of Plattsburgh is perched on the long and skinny Lake Champlain, the largest lake in New England. There's a Canadian border crossing just 20 minutes north. Canadian tourists are the bread and butter of this area.

KRISTY KENNEDY: Being 60 miles away from Montreal, they're our No. 1 market. They're the ones who visit. They're the ones who utilize this area.

FEIEREISEL: That's Kristy Kennedy. She works with the regional chamber of commerce. She says COVID-19 meant two long years of hardly any Canadian tourism. That is until about six weeks ago, when Canada dropped its testing requirement.

KENNEDY: That was huge. We've already seen, you know, record number of Canadians coming back to the area. Bus tours are coming back through. Our shopping is up again. Our restaurants are seeing it.

FEIEREISEL: This little city of 30,000 really missed Canadian visitors - though with many people avoiding air travel, there was a surge of New Yorkers and New Englanders vacationing closer to home. But there were other issues to contend with. A lot of the tourism industry here relies on seasonal visa workers from places like Jamaica and South America.

KENNEDY: And there was a lot of hiccups in that process during the pandemic, so they weren't getting the workers they needed, so their business suffered.

FEIEREISEL: Even local workers were hard to come by. At the Plattsburgh Boat Basin, a marina on Lake Champlain, they were able to keep their long-time workers. But co-owner Art Spiegel says it's been hard to find extra help, and the missing Canadians hit them particularly hard here. But today, the marina is buzzing with activity.

ART SPIEGEL: We have boat owners that are down here working on their boats, fixing their boats.

FEIEREISEL: The bright sun glints off of rows and rows of sailboats. Most have either Montreal or Quebec painted under the boat's name.

SPIEGEL: We have the docks in and have been preparing all week long for the influx of boaters who can finally come and enjoy their property after two years of being border-bound.

FEIEREISEL: Pre-pandemic, Spiegel says 80% of their boaters were Canadian. Now that the border is pretty close to back to normal, at least for vaccinated travelers, Speigel says he's expecting a busy summer. The docks are filling up quickly.

SPIEGEL: Hopefully the marina will be half full of boats, and the other half are out sailing, and at night they'll come into a full marina.

FEIEREISEL: That means a lot more Canadians out spending their time and dollars in communities all along the border.

For NPR News, I'm Amy Feiereisel on the shores of Lake Champlain.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.