Foliage followers fancy fall frescoes

by Joan Kearns | 10/12/00 5:00am

They're ba-ack.

With October being the peak month for fall foliage in New Hampshire, busloads of elderly travelers are once again unloading in Hanover. Vacationers from all over the United States and Europe are coming to catch a glimpse of what one tourist called New England's "Famous Fall."

"I think everybody's heard of it," John Curry of Oxford, England said. "These [leaves] are very spectacular."

While admitting that England has some colors of its own, Curry said they are "not the reds that you have here."

Curry is traveling on a bus with others from locales as varied as Colorado, Alabama and Switzerland. Saturday was the midway point of an eight-day tour of Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, starting and ending in Boston.

The general consensus so far was "wonderful," as Zoey Parkhouse of South Ampton, England, put it.

"We love what we're seeing," said Michael Linn of Southern California.

Curry, who went through a travel agent to book the trip, said it has been "every bit as good as he told us."

Woodstock, Vt., was one of the most popular spots so far, and the group was anticipating great things to come in the White Mountains.

Perhaps the most difficult expectations to meet were those of eighty-four-year-old Katrina Hilger of Germany. After traveling "all over the world," she "decided to make [her] last trip to see Indian summer."

This particular trip also serves as a tour of New England's historical sights. Vacationers stop at attractions such as Boston's Freedom Trail and listen to brief talks on their significance.

Parkhouse cited the chance to see "colonial" New England as a major reason she and her husband chose this trip for their first to America.

The College itself is a popular stop as well. "They love the campus," Loretta Ebare of the Chieftain Motor Inn said of her leaf-peeping guests.

True to form, Linn was charmed by the campus and the Hanover Inn in particular. He eagerly recounted a saying he had overheard -- "If you sit in the rocking chair [in front of the Hanover Inn], you'll see anybody of any importance whatsoever walk by."

The room and board isn't too shabby, either. Some of the finest New England hotels provide lodging, and Linn referred to it as "an eating tour" as he awaited lunch in the Daniel Webster Room.

Many tourists choose foliage sight-seeing tours as a component of a U.S. tour. Parkhouse and her husband are proceeding to eight days in Florida, while the Currys have three weeks of Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and Los Angeles ahead of them.

Not all leaf-peepers come on board the tour buses, however. The Chieftain Motor Inn in Hanover had all the weekends in October booked months ago, mostly by elderly couples, Ebare said. She noted that this year is "a little bit ahead" of last year as far as tourism numbers are concerned.

Clint Bean, Hanover's representative on the Governor's Advisory Committee on Travel and Tourism, gave similar statistics. He estimated that local tourism was up as much as 25 percent in the early summer. That trend has continued into the fall, the area's second-best season for tourism.

Twenty-five percent of New Hampshire's 24 million visitors each year come during the fall, Margaret Joyce of the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development said. The draw of the foliage is "huge, astronomical," she said.

More and more of the leaf-peepers have been coming to the Hanover area recently. Bean gave credit for this change to the state, which in the past has focused on the White Mountain and lakes regions. The Dartmouth/Lake Sunapee region is catching up now.

The state is "starting to pay attention to local amenities," Bean said.

Joyce added that travelers are wanting to "get off the beaten trail" and avoid the heavy traffic of Route 16, leading them to Hanover and the southwest region.

As for the foliage, it's at its peak right now, according to meteorologist Gary Sadowsky of WCAX-TV in Burlington, Vt.

Sadowsky said this week should provide the best leaf viewing of the season, which generally lasts from the last week in September through the third week of October.

"Word has been that this year is much brighter, much more colorful" than previous years, Sadowsky said. The reason for this variance remains a mystery, however.

"No one pins it down," Sadowsky said.