By Nolan Cary
As autumn drifts along, the Green Mountains have begun to turn into a cluster of orange and yellow. Small, quiet towns from Brattleboro to Burlington have begun to bustle with “leaf peepers” from across the country who want to experience the transformation of the mountains and surrounding area. Leaf peepers generate a lot of money for Vermont’s economy but the changing climate may soon dampen this source of income.
Leaf peeping has become a vital component for Vermont’s economy. Last year, 1.3 million people visited Vermont during the month of October alone. Among these visitors, the state brought in $280 million in revenue. “About 10 percent of all visitor spend- ing takes place in October,” said Deputy Commissioner of Tourism and Marketing Steven Cook, who added that the most number of lodging visits also takes place during October. But the effect of climate change may change that scene.
One biologist at St. Michael’s College said leaf peeping is very much dependent on the climate. “Two factors that contribute to very colorful foliage with lots of reds are some bright sunny days in September and into October coupled with cool nights in the 30’s. Below 27 degrees turns the foliage brown mostly,” said Hope. “Two things that can prematurely skeletonize the trees are strong winds and hard rain’s. Both can pull the leaves off the trees before they have gone through their color changes.” Hope said leaves were not very bright a few years ago because it did not get cold during the night until late in the fall season.
Many businesses pick up in the fall and build their activities around the foliage season. Bolton Valley Resort has been an outlet for fall festivities and observing the changing colors of the leaves. Director of Revenue and Marketing at Bolton Valley Resort, Josh Arneson explained how the changing colors of the leaves inevitably draws tourists into the hotels. In addition, throughout the fall months, visitors across the northeast come to Bolton Valley to partake in the resorts Vermont Beer Pairing Pop-Ups.
Hotels also see an upswing in guest as a result of the leaf peepers.“The fall is probably our busiest season,” said Philip Joyce, owner of the Little River Inn located in Stowe Vermont. “This week we had people from Australia, Germany, Canada, and many southern states as well,” said Joyce. Joyce expressed his concern of how the changing climate will affect his business,“We definitely are seeing fall foliage be pushed later into the year. It’s late compared to years past.”
“The increased warmth in general seems to be delaying the foliage sea- son making it start later,” said Hope. Both this and the strong wind and rains will reduce the intensity of the fall foliage and time will tell if it will reduce the number of tourists who visit Vermont.