Tuesday, September 6, 2011

To Vermont or Not To Vermont?

We opened up our weekly radio show this past Sunday by running an interview with Matt Sitosky, a staff writer for the Burlington Free Press. Sitosky has been all over the Green Mountain State covering Hurricane Irene's floods, but despite the destruction he's seen, his attitude was upbeat. He said that though most of the non-interstate roads in the state had suffered damage, the damage was contained in pockets and these were being quickly dealt with. According to Sitosky, southern Vermont had seen the most damage, but even this area, he thought, would be fixed in time for the tourist onslaught that is "Fall Foliage" season (which starts the third week in September and lasts about a month).

Immediately after the interview ran, I received an angry letter from a listener who felt that Sitosky was doing his state a disservice by giving such a rosy account of the damages. "Not only is it inadvisable to go there [to Vermont], the people doing the repairs are begging people to stay AWAY. Every time they have to stop work to let cars pass, it delays them further in their vital work," wrote Ms. Drummond, a native of Rhode Island. "So for the immediate future, people should NOT drive to Vermont, and let the work crews get things repaired."

So that's the view of an outsider.

Vermont Foliage (photo by Shiran Pasternak)
But Vermonters themselves are being quite vocal about the state's recovery, which they say will be a speedy one. Travel writer Larry Olmstead, who lives in Vermont, has issued a photo-laden plea to tourists not to abandon plans to visit the Green Mountain in the coming weeks and months.

The piece, which is running on Forbes.com, notes that a number of the roads that were affected by Irene are already on the mend, and suggests that would-be visitors head to a special web page the state has set up to notify travelers of road closures. According to Olmstead, the list on the page is much shorter than it was several days ago. And both he and Sittosky note that the trees in the state were not affected by Irene (which drenched the area but no longer packed the high winds that could have stripped leaves).

What's most persuasive about Olmstead's piece? The post-Irene photos he attaches of various touristic areas in the state that are still serene, beautiful and seemingly untouched by the recent hurricane. Yes, of course, the hurricane devastated many areas of Vermont (and that shouldn't be downplayed). But not all. And to stay away in late September will simply cause more devastation there.

To borrow a phrase from Olmstead: autumn is Vermont's "Superbowl", an incredibly important time, economically for the state. I, for one, plan to be up in Stowe, VT in December. If I can get there earlier I will. Bargain hunter that I am, I'm guessing there should be some unusually good deals this fall foliage season there. That may sound mercenary but in this case, bargain hunting, since it means traveling, will help those in need.

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