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Tourism Industry Welcomes Fall Colors

Vermont’s tourist industry is gearing up for the lucrative fall foliage season, and state officials are collaborating on new ways to help visitors plan color-filled vacations.

Not many states encourage a high level bureaucrat to leave his office and hit the dirt roads, looking for the first yellow and red leaves. But that’s how a blue-jeaned Mike Snyder, Commissioner of Forests, Parks and Recreation is spending some of these early autumn afternoons.

On a recent  warm sunny day he cruised around the Northeast Kingdom gathering data for the state’s “Fall Foliage Central” website, with its color-coded, frequently updated foliage map.

“We know a crazy amount about the science of fall foliage and why trees change colors the way they do and even to some  extent why they might vary from year to year, but we don’t know everything,” Snyder said. “Some of it is magical.”

It’s important, Snyder added, to gather fresh visual information each year, and not rely on past displays to predict the peak of color. 

He paused his tour near a stream bank to examine a multi-colored sugar maple surrounded by other species showing off golden and russet tones. But  one leaf had brown spots—diseased and scorched by heat.

“You can see even on a brown leaf, there’s still yellow, there’s a little bit of faded green, that will turn colors, and then the green and yellows and orange you see developing, so it’s very typical, a mix of possibilities in every tree,” Snyder said.

Despite a wet summer, ideal for harmful tree fungi, and destructive insects he attributes to climate change, Snyder thinks Vermont is on track for a colorful  foliage season.

Back at her office, Tourism Commissioner Megan Smith  is anxiously watching the weather.

“But I do think that  our early frosts this year are going to be a big help, and we just pray that the rain stays away and we keep the leaves on the trees,” Smith said.

At least until the sun sets on the long Columbus Day holiday. Smith expects about three and a half million visitors to spend about $460 million in Vermont this Fall. That’s about a quarter of the total tourist pie. In addition to sedentary motorists,  Smith wants to lure more diverse travelers who stay longer to do more than traditional day trippers.    

“We always used to think about a leaf peeper coming around in a motor coach or as a bucket list coming up and driving around Vermont, but now...we do hiking packages, cycling tours, motorcycle drives, we have zip lines all around the state and of course, boat cruises,” Smith said.

This year, Vermont is targeting a big chunk of  its $320,000 marketing budget to LGBT tourists and visitors to the new African American heritage trail. Smith says she’s has bought more national television ad time than in the past, and is expanding Vermont’s  international reach.

The state's foliage website is data-driven and inter-active. But eventually, Smith says, her department may need to develop its own foliage smart phone app, to keep up with fierce competition from other states with bigger tourism budgets.  

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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