FRANCONIA - The home of the Old Man of the Mountain continues to welcome visitors 11 years after the rock structure fell, but the site's effect on tourism remains difficult to quantify.
The Old Man collapsed on May 3, 2003, and this year, the anniversary of the event is being remembered without ceremony at Profile Plaza.
Located on the north shore of Profile Lake, which was once called the Old Man's Washbowl, the plaza offers visitors the chance to again envision his profile on the side of Cannon Mountain, some 1,200 feet above the floor of Franconia Notch, with the help of some artistic ingenuity - a series of metal "profilers" that allow visitors to superimpose an image of the Old Man onto what is left of him on Cannon Mountain.
Dick Hamilton, president of the Old Man of the Mountain Legacy Fund, was at the plaza Saturday. Last summer, he said, about 35,000 people visited there, but he acknowledged the number was a guesstimate.
"The majority of the people who viewed the Old Man - probably in the hundreds of thousands - viewed it from their vehicles" at turnouts along the Franconia Notch Parkway, said Hamilton.
Jayne O'Connor, who succeeded Hamilton as president of the White Mountains Attractions Association (WMAA), said there was "no doubt it (the Old Man's collapse) had an impact on tourism. Initially, there was an increase to that part of the White Mountains as people made a pilgrimage to see what the cliff looked like after the fall."
Greg Keeler, the marketing director of Cannon Mountain and Franconia Notch State Park (FNSP), said there appeared to be a spike in the number of visitors two years ago, based on business at an ice-cream shop near the Profile Lake parking area. Decreases followed, he said.
Several years ago, the state Department of Resources and Economic Development reported that sales at the ice cream store as well as the number of riders on the Cannon aerial tramway and visitors to the Flume Gorge fell significantly between 2002 and 2006, but a tourism expert, said a direct causal link could not be made to the collapse of the Old Man.
Keeler said FNSP has been actively promoting other attractions within the park.
and that the effort has been very successful.
Hamilton said some of the best hiking in the Northeast is in the park, and it also features the aerial tramway, camping and other amenities.
O'Connor added that because of the post 9/11 recovery, "we may never know the true impact of the Old Man falling ... but his demise did not bring down the region's tourism industry with it."
"We are very fortunate in the White Mountains to have many tourism icons, such as the Kancamagus Highway, Mount Washington, the Presidential Range, the Cog Railway and Franconia Notch," said O'Connor. "So losing one, even one as prominent as the Old Man of the Mountain, never represented 100 percent of the reason people have always come to the mountains."
For some visitors, including Rich Tyler of Campton, the lure is good fishing.
On Friday afternoon, Tyler had Profile Lake all to himself as he tried to reel in brook trout from what he said was one of the best-stocked lakes in New Hampshire.
Tylor had high praise for the profilers and was also pleased by what was not done to remember the Old Man.
"I'm glad that they didn't put a fake one up there,'' he said.
Hamilton said he misses the Old Man but takes comfort in that a new generation is learning to love him through Profiler Plaza.
"It's amazing how many people come to the plaza with their young children who never saw it," Hamilton said, "and that's the part that makes me feel good."