Leaf peepers explore bountiful foliage

by Emily Robertson | 10/5/14 7:00pm

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As trees transform and leaves begin to scatter, out come the cameras pointed at bright branches. Leaf peepers have come to town, bringing a boost in tourism and benefits for local businesses.

Around 8.2 million visitors are expected in New Hampshire this fall, state division of travel and tourism assistant director Amy Bassett said. Last year, the state saw 8.1 million fall visitors, a 6 percent increase from 2012. Bassett said many come from elsewhere in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, Quebec and Ontario.

According to the online New Hampshire Foliage Leaf Tracker, Dartmouth’s foliage will be at its peak level this week. In 2013, the Dartmouth Lake Sunapee region brought in $20 million in sales for rooms and meals paid by travelers in the fall, Bassett said.

Angela Baglione, an intern at Luna Bleu Farms, said she noticed an increase in the number of people at the Hanover farmers’ market this fall. One of the first vendors at the market on a drizzly Wednesday afternoon, Baglione said as she unpacked her truck that she is used to the changes in foliage.

“Living here, we don’t really go out and look at them,” she said. “They’re just all around.”

Baglione, who has farmed across New England for several years, said that her visitors from outside the area are excited to experience the fall foliage. The increase in visitors has also stimulated the farm’s business, she said.

“There’s a lot of tourism, which brings a major boost to the economy,” she said. “Farmers’ markets are kind of like a quaint New England thing to do, so it can definitely be beneficial.”

According to Nigel Leeming, owner of Murphy’s on the Green restaurant, bus tours for leaf peeping used to be more common approximately 20 years ago, but many tourists now come on their own instead of in groups.

Despite the decline in tour buses coming to Hanover, Leeming said that Murphy’s is always busier in the fall.

“When it rains on a fall foliage day, it’s even better because people want to come inside,” Leeming said.

Maki Schmertz, assistant manager at the Dartmouth Coop, said business increases approximately 20 percent in the fall.

Schmertz said Dartmouth sweatshirts, sweatpants and flannels are popular among fall visitors. The clothing store also sets up a King Arthur Flour booth, which sells pancake and cookie mix, in front of the store exclusively for the fall season.

“I think it’s actually an awesome thing for us because we have some awesome leaves changing in this area,” he said. “I think it helps generally all businesses, and we get to meet and interact with new people.”

Todd Hjelt, a front desk supervisor at Six South Street Hotel, said he has also observed increased business in the fall. Hjelt said the hotel is full over the weekends and rooms are priced at a premium rate, as many visitors are drawn to football and foliage.

Hjelt also said that some guests choose to book rooms for the next year to return for the fall colors.

“That’s a gift for us in this business, to have that business lined up,” he said.

Bill and Emily Montgomery, Houston residents and parents of a Dartmouth alumna, returned to visit the campus and see the leaves this fall. Gazing at Baker Tower from the Green, Emily Montgomery said that she and her husband have gone leaf peeping many times before in New Hampshire, Vermont and New York.

“We just came up the freeway, and it was beautiful,” Emily Montgomery said, noting that the leaves had changed color more to the south and east of Hanover.

“It’s nice to see the mix of colors on water, like on a lake or stream or something like that,” Bill Montgomery said. “It’s just always fun, and we never seem to hit it quite right. We miss the peak, or we’re too late.”​

Hjelt said that the increase in tourism also helps local residents appreciate the season.

“Sometimes you need people to come from all over the world to remind you of how beautiful your natural foliage is,” he said.

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