By Eric Francis, Standard Correspondent
“The question everyone is asking us is, ‘Where’s the foliage? Where’s the foliage?,’ and our standard stock answer is, ‘It’s all up to Mother Nature,’”
Gayle Ottmann, manager of the Welcome Centers at the Quechee Gorge and at the Amtrak station in downtown White River Junction said this week.
While some of the highest and northern-most sections of both Vermont and New Hampshire, including a stretch along the Kancamangus Highway, are reporting vivid colors, much of the twin states still look and feel more like summer than fall.
“I don’t think there’s any question that it’s a late arriving foliage season compared to other years. I’m still seeing a lot of green where I am in
Montpelier and I guess we have to say ‘stay tuned,’” said Philip Tortora, communications director at Vermont’s Agency of Commerce, before adding, “Some leaf peepers are frustrated that the leaves haven’t turned yet but it’s never an exact science from year-to-year. Some years it can be earlier and others later. On the flip side, the recent warm weather has definitely been conducive to outdoor activities.”
It’s not like the tourists aren’t arriving for the annual fall ritual, hotels across the region, which often log reservations for this period a year in advance, are reporting solid bookings and if you’ve tried to eat dinner out in the past week you know a reservation is mandatory.
Ottmann said that in the woods above Taftsville she “worked at Sugarbush Farms on Saturday doing the syrup and cheese tastings and I started talking to people at 9:15 a.m. and didn’t stop until 5:15 p.m. and they all had to go out of their way up a dirt road to find us. It’s been great.”
South Woodstock’s Janet Hughes works at the Welcome Center in downtown White River Junction and passed a half-dozen buses on her way in Tuesday morning.
“Absolutely the people are coming, it’s the leaves that aren’t coming yet,” Hughes noted, adding, “I’m assuming it has been the hot weather that we’ve had and the lack of rain.”
While it has been dry the past couple of weeks, it was a rainy summer overall across the region and that has some observers nervous about whether the photogenic foliage is just late or perhaps not in the offing.
“Once upon a time they always said peak foliage was Columbus Day weekend, but…the experience over the last several years has been the last week in September and first week in October,” Ottmann said.
“My concern is that if it stays this dry the leaves are just going to drop without turning at all.”
The hope is that there is more to visitors’ enjoyment of foliage season than just the foliage.
“The tourism in Woodstock is over-the-top at this moment,” Woodstock Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Beth Finlayson said mid-week. “We are seeing 400 or 500 people a day at our Welcome Center and the buses are coming. The sad thing is we don’t quite have foliage yet. It’s a little later than normal I think but people
are here and out at the picnic tables, telling us what a beautiful town it is and enjoying themselves.”
This weekend the annual Apples and Crafts Artisan Fair will go down at Bailey’s Meadows and the Rotary will hold its annual Penny Sale at the Woodstock Union High School. Students from Woodstock Elementary School will be joining PTO members selling baked goods on the lawn of the library as well this week.
Up in Killington, where things are a bit cooler, there is still confidence that the leaves, and the visitors are going to make it to the finish line.
“Coming through our Welcome Center today alone I’ve had three couples from Germany who are here to see the foliage,” said Alexis King, Killington’s Membership Services Director.
“The colors are good but it’s strange,” King said, “At first it seemed like the foliage was coming really quickly this year but last week, after that heat wave, it kind of just lulled but now it seems to be getting redder day by day. I think we’ll peak in the next week or two.”
This article first appeared in the October 5, 2017 edition of the Vermont Standard.