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The Dartmouth
April 16, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Leaf peepers and tourists aid Hanover businesses

Fall foliage, in conjunction with Dartmouth events such as Family Weekend, has brought visitors to the Upper Valley — resulting in an uptick in customers for Hanover businesses.

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Leaf-peeping has returned in full force as throngs of tourists visit Hanover and the Upper Valley to observe and photograph fall foliage. In the Dartmouth-Lake Sunapee region, peak foliage falls between Oct. 5 and Oct. 15, with 50-75% of leaves having changed colors by Oct. 7, according to the New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism Development’s website

In a September press release, the Travel and Tourism department projected that 4.3 million tourists will visit New Hampshire this fall and contribute $2 billion in spending to the state’s economy.

Umpleby’s Bakery Cafe front of house leader Kevin Collins has noted a surge in customers since the foliage season began. However, he said that the increase in customers is not exclusive to stretches like Parents Weekend. 

Collins said, “We've seen an uptick [in business], and we see it more on the weekends and around the weekend, so Fridays or Mondays. Even before the leaves were changing, they still came.” 

Collins estimated that between 20 and 30% of Umpleby’s customers in the last two to three weeks have visited Hanover solely for the vibrant foliage. According to Collins, many of these tourists travel from southern states, but he has also noticed swaths of international visitors from Germany and the U.K.

Still North Books & Bar has also experienced a boost in business thanks to leaf-peepers. Owner Allie Levy said that the store usually sees “a significant increase in foot traffic, which means an increase in sales” during this time of year.

Levy attributed this uptick to people who schedule their trips to the Upper Valley and Hanover to coincide with both peak foliage and Dartmouth-related activities. For example, she explained that people choose to visit colleges in the fall because “of the timing of the application process.”

She said, “Also because why wouldn’t you want to come to New England in the fall, especially this year? It’s been just an amazing year for color.” 

Assistant geography professor and climate scientist Justin Mankin explained that fall foliage occurs as a result of slowing chlorophyll production. According to Mankin, before a tree drops its leaves, it enters dormancy, causing chlorophyll — the green pigment within the leaves — to break down. This disintegration unveils orange and yellow pigments called carotenoids and xanthophylls that are already present in the leaf, according to Mankin. He added that during the warmer months, however, leaves are dominated by chlorophyll. 

According to Mankin, drought-stricken areas tend to display more muted leaf colors. This year, despite a drought in New England from June to September, he said a “pretty wet September” brought the region out of drought relatively quickly, encouraging brighter displays. 

Other Hanover businesses have not seen as strong a link between leaf-peeping tourism and customer influx. 

Hanover Inn general manager Brian Hunt said that the Inn’s higher occupancy rate this month relates in part to the seasonal change and fall foliage. However, he added that “first and foremost, the College calendar and what’s happening on campus” dictate business. 

Indigo store owner Mia Vogt also said that despite October’s status as “one of [Indigo’s] biggest months” and its overlap with peak foliage, the store’s rise in customers originates from the Dartmouth event calendar that brings people to Hanover.

“I do notice straight-up tourists, but bigger parts of our business are the [Dartmouth] events that bring people to town, like reunions on the weekends, Homecoming, home games and Parents’ Weekend,” Vogt said.

Some student activities and trips run by the Dartmouth Outing Club are also centered on peak foliage. Cabin and Trail member Grace Hillery ’25 plans to co-lead numerous hikes to Gile Mountain, including a “quadruple Gile” — four hikes up and down the mountain in one day.  

Hillery said that these trips are more in demand now than they are in other seasons. 

“I’ve been looking back on some of the sign-ups from the spring or the summer or the winter compared to peak foliage,” she said. “Gile hikes during peak foliage can get fifty sign-ups. That’s the most I’ve seen on a Gile hike.” 

Cabin and Trail chair Alex Wells ’22 said he joined a Gile sunsike — a hike occurring during sunset — last-minute on Friday so that he could drive an extra van and accommodate students on the hike’s waitlist.

“In the first week of the term, we were running a lot of Gile trips, and there were a lot of sign-ups, but they weren’t reliably filling up,” Wells said. “But now any time one happens, spots get snatched up.”