MONTPELIER, Vt. – An optimistic forecast has inn owners expecting brisk business when leaf peepers visit the Northeast this fall, with some hoping to recoup losses from last year after images of Tropical Storm Irene swallowing up bridges and roads scared visitors away from Vermont and other affected areas.
The Woodstock Inn & Resort had to cancel reservations for all of September last year due to flood damage. After multimillion-dollar renovations, it's quickly filling up for the five-week season and nearly booked for Columbus Day weekend.
"There's almost pent-up demand from people that missed out last year and they're very excited to be here this year," said Courtney Lowe, the inn's marketing director.
After Irene tore through Vermont at the end of August 2011, national news showed images of floodwaters carrying away roads and bridges, including several of Vermont's iconic covered bridges. Some would-be tourists from Texas and California canceled last fall at the Round Barn Farm in Waitsfield, and the inn was down nearly 25 percent in September.
"When they saw the covered bridge go down the river, and in their world, from Oklahoma to California (to) Texas, every bridge in Vermont" was destroyed, even though only pockets of the state were battered, said Round Barn Farm co-owner Tim Piper.
The inn made up some of the business in October, though, Piper said, when visitors from other parts of New England and from New York made the trek, partly to see the foliage, partly out of curiosity, and partly to help the economy. Vermont reaps more than $300 million from the foliage season, and fall tourism brings in an estimated $1 billion in neighboring New Hampshire.
Now, the inn is nearly full for the foliage season.
"This year, our numbers are back on track to where they should be," he said.
Several couples who were stranded at the Notchland Inn in Hart's Location in the White Mountains of New Hampshire for two days during last year's storm are returning this fall.
"We should have a decent foliage season as long as Mother Nature cooperates," said co-owner Ed Butler.
Visitors should see the show they're expecting.
Dry spells this summer aren't likely to hamper the fall colors in forests and mountains, experts predicted, and could even heighten them in some spots.
Light and the length of days are the chief factors for when trees start revealing the yellows, oranges and reds of fall. The key to the deep reds are cold snaps that stimulate the development of another pigment, said Michael Snyder, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation.
Visitors could see some brown patches where trees growing in thin soils are dry or where trees are under some other stress and have turned early.
But the dryness also could enhance the color in some spots.
"We've had nice dry, hot summer," said Maine's foliage spokeswoman, Gale Ross. "We're setting ourselves up for an ideal foliage season." She's already fielded numerous inquiries from potential leaf peepers, even one from China.
The bulk of Maine's trees will turn color within the next few weeks.
The season's first online foliage report Wednesday showed leaves still green in the lower two-thirds of Maine. But in the far northern and northwestern parts of the state, 10 to 30 percent of the leaves had changed, marking the start of the season.
Tourism officials in New York's Adirondacks and Catskills said the storms didn't deter visitors overall last year, especially after word spread that a key road in the Adirondacks was quickly repaired.
But there were pockets of disruption.
Christman's Windham House is in an area of the Catskills that was hit hard by Irene.
Owner Brian Christman said there was damage around the 49-room hotel and 27-hole golf course in the Greene County town of Windham, but he was ready to accommodate visitors during the foliage season.
"When they put it on CNN that Windham was devastated, that pretty much stopped business," he said. "We had people come. It was just a fraction of normal."
He figures about a quarter of his annual business comes from leaf-peepers and said this year's reservations are much better.
No matter what Mother Nature produces, it's still spectacular, particularly to guests who come from far away, said Piper, co-owner of the Round Barn Farm.
"In our worst foliage season that I've ever had, they've been in total awe of what Mother Nature gave them. We have variations on what is good, but for these people it's still remarkable thing of nature," he said.
Associated Press writer George M. Walsh in Albany, N.Y., contributed to this report.