Dave Anderson's Forest Journal: Tourists remind us how good we have it

DAVE ANDERSON October 27. 2012 11:03PM

We are generally aware of the tremendous positive economic impact that the autumn foliage season and scenic tourism bring to our fair state. The foliage season has concluded in the North Country and White Mountains regions. It's the second most important season for out-of-state and foreign visitors who flock to New Hampshire to enjoy the scenery - trailing only summer, which is longer and draws guests to all the state's major tourism areas, including the Seacoast.

Acccording to Tai Freligh at the state Division of Travel and Tourism Development: 'Fall is our second busiest time of year, with forecasted spending of over 1 billion dollars by visitors over the three-month period. Columbus Day Weekend is known as the peak foliage viewing, and this year was no exception. The colors were fantastic that weekend, especially in the Great North Woods and White Mountains regions. Scenic beauty is always at the top of the list when it comes to what draws travelers. Foliage season draws the largest numbers of group travelers and visitors from outside New England.'

Jayne O'Connor at the White Mountains Attractions Visitor Center in Lincoln offers: 'It was an excellent foliage season! Visitors and locals called the colors among the most vibrant seen in many years. It seems our near-perfect weather all summer brought us near-perfect color for the fall. International visitors increased; we had visitors from as many as 18 different countries represented at the White Mountains Visitor Center daily.'

Colorful leaves generate $1 billion in tourism dollars to New Hampshire businesses? Cha-ching!

New Hampshire as a world-renowned scenic destination? Ah-yuh.

Why do we continue to attract so many admirers from afar? Is it our forests, mountains, lakes, quaint villages? Our good roads, shopping, fine dining and lodging? It certainly isn't proximity to home for the increasing numbers of international visitors!

I've heard many variations on a common New Hampshire story of taking visitors for a scenic drive through the White Mountains and Lakes Region and noting how surprising it is to watch breathless reactions to our 'big backyard' landscape as seen through visitors' eyes. Only then do we recognize how nonchalant we typically are about all that stunning golden scenery and our good fortune to live here.

A friend spoke to me of a woman from Ohio who asked him to take a picture of her standing in front of Silver Cascade in Crawford Notch on a gray day (though not too great for taking pictures).

'She was just beaming standing there ... a typical tourist shot, really,' the friend recalled. 'You could tell how pleased and proud she was to be here. And some New Hampshire folks get ticked off when leaf-peepers stop in front of us on the road. But, man, they're absolutely spellbound at the sight of our day-to-day landscape.'

We remain the envy of people visiting from places less beautiful. Sometimes we need foliage tourism, it seems, to remind ourselves not to become blasť about the remarkable place in which we are so fortunate to live.

Visitors react in awe to what we have here. They needn't know the whole story of how we have collectively and intentionally worked - as residents of New Hampshire, in our communities and in the leadership of private organizations and government agencies - to protect and care for our most cherished and important scenic resources.

Tourists arrive for our scenery. They can't take it with them when they go, and hence they expect to find it undiminished when they return.

We need to continue to protect our state from threats that would change the scenic character of our homeland.

The beauty surrounding us is not simply about the economic value of rooms and meals-tax revenues but really more about our state's core identity. Our landscape defines us as a people.

A Mark Twain quote contrasts New England with the South: 'In the South, people shape their land; in New England, the land shapes its people.'

Naturalist Dave Anderson is Director of Education and Volunteer Services for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. His column appears once a month in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at danderson@forestsociety.org or through the Forest Society Web site, forestsociety.org.


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