Leaf-peeping tourism

Leaf-peeping season isn't exactly a secret in hotbeds such as New England and the Great Smoky Mountains, but that's the way folks in those areas like it.

On a good year when the weather plays along and the colors are at their most vibrant, the number of leafers that come in on weekends can rival those of peak season. Few places know this better than Vermont, which employs its own leaf forecaster to keep visitors informed of where the best color can be found and when that color will reach its peak. In Central and Southern Vermont, that peak often coincides fortuitously with Columbus Day weekend.

All those folks eyeing the trees, renting cabins, buying syrup, eating cheese and drinking the local beer and cider aren't exactly cheapskates either. From 2003 to 2011, the last year for which such information was available, the number of fall visitors to Vermont jumped to 3.6 million from 2.8 million. The amount of cash they spent also jumped, to $460 million from $338 million.

What makes that growth particularly impressive is that it occurred regardless of the destruction wrought by Hurricane Irene just before fall. Vermonters as a whole are fairly resilient, but it says a lot about the loyalty of its regular visitors that they stepped up, stayed and spent when the state needed them most.

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