Peak foliage signals the return of leaf peepers

by Melanie Kos | 10/14/16 12:33am

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Dartmouth Hall is surrounded by fall leaves.

by Paula Kutschera / The Dartmouth

Autumn has arrived in Hanover, bringing tourists along with it, and the changing leaves are the draw. Every year foliage fanatics flock to the town and New Hampshire to participate in the activity commonly called “leaf peeping.”

According to the foliage tracker on the Visit New Hampshire website, Hanover and surrounding areas are currently at peak foliage, which will last for only one more week. 

Biological sciences professor Matthew Ayres explained the science behind New England’s distinct foliage. A red pigment called anthocyanin, frequently found in maple trees, is created when there is sugar present in leaves. Very few trees in Europe turn red, which is part of the reason why New England gets so many international visitors. Scientists believe that many tree species with more vivid colors went extinct in Europe about 50,000 years ago due to the ice age, according to Ayres.

“It’s an industry. People are able to make a living and raise their kids based on who comes up to see the trees,” Ayres said.

The New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism Development expects 9.5 million visitors to come to New Hampshire this fall and spend an estimated $1.42 billion. Last year, 9.03 million people visited the state during the season, spending about $1.3 billion, according to the same organization.

“New Hampshire has an outstanding reputation for beautiful foliage which is why people plan vacations to New Hampshire during the autumn season,” Kris Neilsen, communications manager for the New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism Development, wrote in a statement. 

Fall is the second busiest tourism season in New Hampshire, behind the summer, Neilsen wrote.

Local Hanover businesses like Lou’s Restaurant are seeing an influx of visitors to the area.

“We’ve certainly seen a fair share of tourists,” said Craig Morley, the general manager of Lou’s Restaurant. “We get a lot of people coming in from Europe this time of year. The foliage intrigues them, as well as the area. Hanover has a lot to offer for the leaf peepers,” Morley added.

This past holiday weekend was even busier than previous weekends this fall, he said. 

“It can’t necessarily be attributed to the trees, but they certainly help. Business has been just as good, if not better than last year,” he said.