Visitors to Hartman’s Farm Stand in Enosburg Falls purchase fall goods during leaf peeping season.

ST. ALBANS — Tourists have returned to Franklin County.

As pandemic worries recede and the leaves explode into color, travelers have been flooding into the region to give a well-needed boost to the tourism industry after a dismal 2020.

“My phone has been ringing off the hook,” Lisamarie Charlesworth, Franklin County Regional Chamber of Commerce's chamber manager, told the Messenger on Tuesday. “All I've been doing is responding to calls made throughout the weekend.”

Vermont Information Centers near the state's borders tracked 43,000 vehicles driving through this past weekend. A total of 18,500 visited last year at the same time.

Meal and hotel tax receipts also show major increases year over year. While state data hasn't been released for the third quarter, Franklin County hotel stays for the year's first half have quadrupled in 2021 as more and more people seek out the vacations they missed last year.

Part of the fall traffic is the crowd of leaf-peepers who come to the state every year. At Hartman's Farm Stand in Enosburg Falls, Hannah Hartman has seen the usual high numbers seeking out the fall experience.

“It's leaf peeping time, and it's peak foliage. Creemees on the weekend, pumpkin and squash, apples, ciders,” she said. “[Fall] is what Vermont is all about.”

Similarly, large groups of travelers converge on the summit of Jay Peak to see the region from above, unfurling into a blanket of many oranges and reds. 

"You can come to my house for coffee and you'll see a line of cars out on the road. I know when the dogs start barking, the leaf peepers are here," Lynnette Deaette, Jay town clerk and treasurer, said.

This season, however, it's not just vacationers looking at the colorful foliage. Since the COVID-19 pandemic caused restricted travel in 2020, more people have been using the past weekend to make up for lost time.

“Most people come for the leaves, but a lot of people are making up for last year with weddings, family gatherings, birthdays — all the stuff they couldn't do, they're trying to get in now,” Maureen Brown, Hampton Inn St. Albans' general manager, said.

At the Back Inn Time, a bed and breakfast in St. Albans, owner Karen Marie Peltier said she's used to seeing waves of people staying around the holidays. The difference this year is that the crowds have been more consistent.

“We're always busy in October in a regular year,” she said. “Usually, it dies down after Columbus day and after Labor Day after a week, but this year, it's not dying down.”

Hotel owners have also seen influxes of people coming via train. Brown said train travelers typically stay for a couple of days to check out local highlights nearby, such as the Saint Albans Museum.

While travelers have kept local businesses busy, one aspect of the season that has not returned is the Canadian tourist. Because of the closed border, Charlesworth said, she hasn't seen the usual groups of Canadian bicyclists who make their way into the area.

“I'm used to seeing packs of cyclists, 10 or 15 at a time,” she said. “They usually stop in the office to find maps and places to bike. That's one thing that I have not done any of this year.”

With everyone else finding reasons to travel, the lack of bicyclists, however, hasn't been much of a problem.

“It's an extra busy season,” Brown said. “Certainly, there's a lot of ground that was lost in the tourism business. It's definitely been a nice summer for this area.”

Canadian tourists are expected back in the area in early November, when the U.S. border will open to Canadians for non-essential travel.

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