Goodnight Irene: Vermont Tourism Bounces Back
Vermont’s winding back roads and tree-lined main streets usually provide the perfect escape for crisp days full of fall colors. But some of those back roads and main streets look very different after Hurricane Irene arrived on August 28th, causing historic levels of flooding. Rushing waters ripped away hillsides, crumbled bridges, and left some business districts devastated.
The floods hit just before the fall foliage season, a time when small Vermont towns welcome large numbers of visitors. In the week following Irene, many towns asked visitors not to travel to Vermont to avoid overwhelming roads and repair crews with additional traffic.
But less than two weeks later, Vermonters are back at work and welcoming visitors with open arms. Neighbors rallied together to clean up and re-open businesses even before major government and non-profit agencies opened centers for aid.
“Towns and areas of Vermont are getting more accessible every day,” says Steve Cook, deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing. “The clean-up effort is happening in communities that were hard hit. They are working around-the-clock to get businesses and roads fixed in those areas.”
Cook says conditions on the ground are changing rapidly and travelers who are considering a trip should take a look at VermontVacations.com, the state’s official site, to learn the latest details. Central and southern Vermont were among the hardest hit areas while northern Vermont experienced minimal flooding. But conditions can vary widely from one neighboring town to the next.
“Right after, for 10 days to 2 weeks, it was not a good environment for tourists,” says Lisa Sullivan, president of the Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce.
That’s all changed as businesses aim to re-open at varying points through the fall season and will be holding special outdoor sales on Columbus Day weekend.
Sullivan says that “while it won’t be exactly the same,” visitors can still enjoy hiking, shopping ,and eating as well as seeing “how the community has come together from all over to support each other.”
In Wilmington, three buildings were swept away and several more buildings will require extensive repairs. But Wahoo’s, the town’s much-loved hamburger stand, re-opened just five days after the unbelievable flooding seen here.
The nearby ski town of West Dover is also up and running.
“Dover wasn’t hit that badly,” says Cyndee Frere, owner of the Snow Goose Inn.
Frere says that bookings for the popular Columbus Day weekend are strong but that she’s seen a decrease in bookings since the storm.
“Southern Vermont,” Frere says, “has been a little more reticent about encouraging people to come up.”
Despite the challenges, there’s plenty of fall color to see and shops, inns, and restaurants are open even in hard-hit areas. Road crews are working overtime to find solutions and more than 80 percent of roads in Vermont are currently open.
If you’re interested in planning a trip, check out these websites:
- Nat Geo Expeditions
- Vermont is anticipating a good color season. Check VermontVacation.com for its weekly Foliage Report, which includes a list of roads that are the best bet for seeing leaves.
- Head to Vermont’s comprehensive, interactive road map. The site uses Google Maps and updates regularly, providing detailed information on reasons for road conditions.
- In addition to lodging, dining and events information, VermontVacation.com also provides travelers with a way to upload post-Irene photos and video to share their experiences or visit a special Flickr account to view current conditions. Rural Vermont's bright autumn colors. (Nick Pertrick/My Shot)
- Many small towns have responded to the flooding in creative ways, updating their official websites with information and getting the word out about business openings and closures through social media. These are good resources for planning a trip to Vermont so don’t hesitate to follow their Twitter feeds and Facebook pages. Windham Status is a good example of towns in southern Vermont finding ways to aggregate information in one location. You can also view updates though #vtirene on Twitter
- If you own a vacation or rental property in Vermont, you can make a difference by temporarily offering your residence to one of the many Vermont families who have been displaced. To learn more, contact Community Away from Home.
One of the best ways to support Vermonters post-Irene is to plan a visit. Book a room at a family-owned inn and support the locally owned businesses that make the Green Mountain state so unique.
Katherine Gypson is a D.C.-based journalist.