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Irene flooding threatens fall leaf tourism

September 2, 2011
By LISA RATHKE , Associated Press

MONTPELIER, Vt. - The flood damage in New England is all but certain to hurt Vermont's vital leaf-peeping season, when thousands of tourists come to see the autumn colors, pick apples, visit craft fairs and, at the end of the day, go to sleep under a down comforter at a historic inn.

Some inns have closed because of damage to roads or rooms from the rainy remnants of Hurricane Irene. A few harvest festivals scheduled for mid-September, when the leaves begin to turn, have been called off.

And resorts are receiving cancellations from would-be guests who are afraid - rightly or wrongly - that yuh can't get there from heah, as they say in New England.

"Obviously the storm is going to scare some folks away," said Chris Danforth, director of sales and marketing at the Killington resort.

Despite the crumbled roads and washed-out bridges, Vermont tourism officials are trying mightily to get the word out that the state is open for business and should be OK for the fall foliage season, which brings in more than $300 million in business for the state each year.

"If you want to show us a little love and kindness, spend your tourist dollars in Vermont. Huge parts of Vermont are entirely unaffected," Gov. Peter Shumlin said Friday. "You can travel our goat paths in the south or our superhighways across the state, but we need your love and your dollars now."

How much of an effect the damage will have on ski season, which generally starts anywhere between late October and early December, is unclear.

Major ski resorts said they don't believe they will have any problems, but state officials are not ready to say when the roads might be fixed.

The east-west Route 4 from Rutland to Killington and Woodstock and Route 9 through flood-ravaged Wilmington, home of the Mount Snow ski area, are top priorities.

"Until we have a better understanding of the magnitude of this, we don't want to give predictions," Deputy Transportation Commissioner Sue Minter said. She said her agency is still concentrating on helping the victims cut off by the flooding.

Highway repair crews have a small window in which to fix the roads. Cathy Voyer, president of the Vermont chapter of the Associated General Contractors, said paving and pouring of concrete will have to stop once the snows set in. That typically happens in November in the mountains.

For her part, the state's tourism commissioner is letting visitors know on the state's website and through Twitter, Facebook and public service announcements that many beautiful parts of the state were untouched by the storm.

She has talked to tourism officials in New Orleans who dealt with Hurricane Katrina about how to overcome the devastating images in the news and is encouraging innkeepers to contact their guests.

"My thought is, you know, we have three weeks to get ready for foliage, and they think the leaves are certainly fine. I feel like we're going to be able to get the main artery roads back on track," said Tourism Commissioner Meghan Smith.

In the meantime, the Hawk Mountain Inn & Resort in Plymouth is closed because of road damage, and the Woodstock Inn & Resort canceled reservations for all of September after 13 of its 142 rooms, several meeting rooms and some kitchen facilities were flooded.

Courtney Lowe, marketing director at the Woodstock Inn, said the resort hopes to be fully open by October.

"We hope we have a nice, good October foliage here. It's a huge season," with up to 80 percent of the rooms typically filled, he said.

The Vermont Life Wine & Harvest Festival for Sept. 23-25 has been canceled in Mount Snow Valley. At Killington, which lost part of a ski lodge and found itself cut off, an emergency road has since opened up, but the resort has had to cancel next week's Killington Classic Motorcycle Rally and the Killington Farm to Table Festival on Sept. 16.

Danforth said the resort expects to be able to welcome leaf-peepers and hold its annual Brewfest on Oct. 1, even if Route 4 is still just dirt.

In New Hampshire, where fall tourism brings in an estimated $1 billion, the Notchland Inn in Hart's Location in the White Mountains was left stranded when rising waters washed away the main road through town.

The road has since been repaired. But the 15-room inn has received about a dozen cancellations from guests who planned to come for the foliage season. The owners are hoping tourists will come to realize they can get there after all.

Fall foliage season "is the major eight weeks of our year. It would be like retail being unable to open their doors to sell things at Christmastime," said co-owner Les Schoof.

In the Adirondack Mountains of New York, authorities have closed all trails to some of the state's highest and most popular summits. It is not clear when the trails will reopen. But when they do, hikers will see some significant changes.

Around Mount Marcy, the state's highest peak, generations of backpackers have paused on a bridge to take pictures of mountains reflected in the pond behind Marcy Dam. Now, the bridge is gone and the dam has been undermined, leaving a mudflat where the reflective water used to be.

Another popular camping lake, Duck Hole, is drained after a dam there was washed out. Avalanche Pass, a dramatic V-shaped gorge, is clogged with 18 inches of mud. And Hitch-Up Matilda, a rustic wood bridge, has lost much of its decking.

A beloved tourist attraction in Vermont, The Vermont Country Store in Weston and Rockingham, which offers old-fashioned and hard-to-find products from home remedies to quaint farmhouse kitchen gadgets, remains open, undamaged by the storm.

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Associated Press reporters Dave Gram contributed from Montpelier, Vt., Kathy McCormack from Concord, N.H., and Mary Esch from Albany, N.Y.

 
 

 

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