Leaf Peepers Bring The Bucks (And Traffic)

Oct 7, 2019

If you’ve gotten caught behind a lot of slow moving traffic lately, you're not alone. And yup, it can be incredibly frustrating. But remember: all those leaf peepers will add millions to the state coffers.

Ken Jones, a research analyst with the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, says fall foliage can noticeably boost traffic.

“The [Vermont] Agency of Transportation measures the actual number of vehicles that pass certain points, traffic counts, and they do it every 15 minutes of every day,” Jones said. “And what we notice is Sunday, southbound on I-89 and I-91, that’s largely visitor-based travel. And Columbus Day itself is oftentimes the busiest traffic day of the year.”

The flow of traffic steadily increases in the lead up to that day, which is this coming weekend, and which, starting this year, ends on a Monday no longer called Columbus Day, but Indigenous Peoples' Day.

One of three tour buses parks recently at a gift store and snack bar in Quechee, Vt. According state agency of commerce officials, fall tourism brings in about $40 million in tax revenue each year.
Credit Nina Keck / VPR

One recent weekday at Quechee Gorge, for instance, three large tour buses were parked at a gift store and snack bar.

Brigitte Kutter had just gotten off one of them. A native of Luxembourg, she said the two dozen people on her bus were German speakers from Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Luxembourg. They were spending a week traveling from Boston to Montreal.

Not far away, on the bridge overlooking the the gorge, Dena and Brenda Futrell snapped photographs.

“We’re here for about three or almost four weeks, Vermont, New Hampshire and back to Pennsylvania," Brenda said.

Traffic makes its way over Queechee gorge, the deepest gorge in Vermont. According to the local visitors center, more than 500,000 people visit every year, a high percentage during Fall Foliage.
Credit Nina Keck / VPR

The couple live in O’Fallen, Ill. and said the trip had been on their bucket list.

“We really like Stowe and Waterbury,” Brenda said. She added the cool Vermont air was a welcome relief from the 90 degrees back home in southern Illinois.

Pennsylvania residents Janet Sweeney and Bill Moser had also stopped at the Quechee gorge. They've been to Vermont a lot, they said, and they described themselves as "real serious leaf peepers."

“We love Vermont, especially this time of year, with all the beautiful foliage,” Sweeney said.

“One year, we’re going to start in Maine and we’re going to follow it all the way south,” Moser added.

“Right along the Appalachian Trail, all the way down to the south,” Sweeny said. “We’re going to follow the beauty — we love the beauty.”

This year, they brought friends from Arizona and Louisiana and joked that they're still on the lookout for a hat or a t-shirt that says "I Am A Leaf Peeper." Like the cheese head hats in Wisconsin. But not a maple head or cow head hat.

"There’s a lot of that already," Sweeny said. "We want leaf peeping."

Leaf peepers like Moser and Sweeney, along with second home owners who tend to come up this time of year, mean big money for Vermont according to Jones, the analyst from the state agency of commerce.

“Just this month of foliage contributes about $40 million of tax revenues to the state of Vermont," Jones said.

Kipp Miller and his wife, Liz, have owned Quechee Gifts and Sportswear for 40 years. They say this time of year, they'll have 10 buses a day stop at their business.
Credit Nina Keck / VPR

Kipp and Liz Miller have owned Quechee Gifts and Sportswear for 40 years. They say leaf peepers bring in 60 percent of their annual revenue.

“Fall foliage is our Christmas,” Liz said, nodding to the line forming at a nearby cash register.

“The business is kind of determined by the fall colors itself,” Kipp said. “Like last year, they were very late. And this year, they’re running about as usual. Columbus Day is falling a little late this year, and so, it will depend, if there's still good fall color, it will be a strong weekend as well."

Kipp said the biggest challenge has been finding enough help.

“In fact, most of my staff here are retired, and God bless ‘em, they’re great workers," he said. "But there’s just not a lot of people from the labor market.”

Kipp and his wife are tired this time of year, but happy.