We visited southeast and central Vermont a week after devastating flooding in August – and had a wonderful time, staying in the lovely village of Grafton and visiting towns including Bennington, Woodstock, Putney and Bellows Falls. Sure there were inconveniences – washed out portions of roads, closed small highways, detours, inaccessible businesses. (A scenic drive to visit artisanal cheesemakers turned into a flood damage tour.)
And we did feel guilty at times vacationing in a place where many people have lost so much. But we would have felt more guilty if we’d canceled our long-planned trip – since Vermont’s economy depends heavily upon tourism. And when one road was closed, we found alternatives or changed our plans slightly. No big deal.
And the state was as beautiful as ever. Sooo, don’t cancel your fall foliage or winter ski trip to Vermont – and if you haven’t made such plans, consider doing so. According to the story below, Vermont is trying its hardest to be back in shape for the tourists it really needs to visit.
This post was written by Burlington Free Press reporter Matt Sutkoski.
BURLINGTON, Vt. — A month ago, Tropical Storm Irene tore up 500 miles of Vermont roads, battered or washed away at least four covered bridges and turned homes and businesses into muck-filled ruins in the worst flooding the state had seen in nearly a century.
By Adam Silverman, Burlington Free Press
Now, efforts to repair highways and bridges have reopened most routes into picturesque villages where streams and rivers overran their banks. And as leaves begin to turn to brilliant fall hues, Vermont tourism officials are hoping visitors will return in the usual large numbers.
In the storm-damaged Mad River Valley town of Warren, Pitcher Inn finance director Melissa Roberts says staff have been fielding questions from would-be visitors. The inn was closed after Irene because water from the Mad River invaded the building’s lower level, but the undamaged rooms reopened last week. The inn’s operators also own the Warren Store across the street, a popular tourist attraction untouched by the flooding.
Many guests are worried that the Aug. 28 storm stripped trees of leaves. But Irene generated less wind than expected, and when the colors turn in full force in early October, “it’s going to be beautiful, like it always is,” Roberts promises. (For foliage updates, check VermontVacation.com and Jeff-Foliage.com)
Most flooding from Irene affected central and southern Vermont, where such towns as Grafton, Wilmington and Woodstock, all popular with tourists, suffered serious damage.
Most remaining road closures are in the southern half of the state, close to the spine of the Green Mountains, which run north-south.
Through late September, just under 20 miles of state highways remained closed due to flood damage, says Chris Cole of the Vermont Agency of Transportation. Another 62 miles remained under restrictions, such as bans on commercial traffic, or under rules allowing only local residents to navigate those stretches. Eight state highway bridges remained closed, and three others were open only for limited use.
During foliage season, major road closures are expected to include Vermont Route 107 near the central Vermont town of Stockbridge, and Vermont routes 131 and 106 in the southeastern part of the state. But popular leaf-peeping routes such as U.S. routes 4 and 9 and Vermont routes 125 and 17 in central and southern Vermont have reopened. Other highways popular with autumn tourists, such as routes 15, 104, 105 and U.S. 2, never were seriously affected by the storm. (Up-to-date information on road closures and conditions are available at 511vt.com.)
Will the state’s concerted efforts to rebuild counteract the vivid images of devastation broadcast during the past four weeks?
“It’s always a little difficult to project how the industry is performing until after that particular season,” says Steve Cook, deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing. “We’ve heard a lot of mixed things.”
The stakes are high. In 2009, the last year for which complete figures are available, three major draws for Vermont tourism — weddings, foliage season and ski season — generated $829 million in visitor spending, according to state tourism officials. A large portion of those weddings occur during foliage season.
Cook says many parts of Vermont relatively unaffected by Irene are reporting strong bookings. But areas hit hard by the storm have few bookings, even at lodgings left undamaged, and some inns and other attractions are offering reduced rates unheard of during previous foliage seasons. Recently, the Best Western Inn and Suites in the central Vermont town of Mendon, just east of Rutland on U.S. Route 4, was offering a “Canoe & Stay” deal of two nights’ stay, full-day canoe rental and breakfast – all for $70.
Some communities, such as Brandon on U.S. Route 7 north of Rutland, are getting creative. The town suffered significant damage during Irene but has bounced back rapidly. If tourists book a room in Brandon, they’ll receive $50 in “Brandon Bucks,” Cook says. Tourists can redeem the Brandon Bucks by spending them at most retailers in the town.
The historicVillage of Weston, on Route 100, is offering a “Meandering in Weston Package” that includes specially priced rooms and meals at several local inns, admission to Weston’s antiques and craft shows, a gift certificate to the Vermont Country Store, lunch at The Bryant House Restaurant, and a shopping card good for 10% discounts at village shops and galleries.
Meanwhile, Cook says he’s been testing the quality of the state’s repair work. One day last week, he traveled along U.S. Route 4 between Woodstock and Killington, a busy artery especially during foliage season. The highway was washed out and impassible in spots in the days after Irene. Not so this day.
“The road is in really great shape,” he says.