Hot! How to Be a Considerate Leaf Peeper

leaves

As the air starts to get crisp and pumpkins start to appear on grocery store shelves, the trees in New England begin to put on one of the greatest shows in the natural world. The fall foliage in the northeast is legendary for a reason, but the season also brings a lot of eye rolling and frustration to many locals in the region. New England is a relatively close-knit and community-based part of the country, and when the first maple leaf starts to turn, many of the quaint, cute little villages that make the region so unique become positively flooded with tourists, whom locals call “Leaf Peepers”. Just like France in August, New Englanders can be a bit brusque during this season, but there are some things you can do to be a more considerate visitor to the area, and to have a better time doing so. Here are a few bits of advice I picked up during the six years I spent living in rural western Massachusetts:

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Avoid the temptation to drive through the countryside at 10mph.

Yes, the leaves are pretty, but try to remember that there are people who actually live here, and they would like to get to where they’re going in a timely manner. If there’s no one around and you want to drive slowly, that’s fine, but if there are other people around, please stick to the speed limit or pull over. This goes a long way towards preventing the traffic jams that can plague this normally sparsely populated region during the season.

If you really feel the need to take the slow route through the region, consider bringing or renting a bike, and bicycle along the roads instead. You will get your leaves, your exercise, and get to experience the changing season more fully that way.

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Get out of your car every once in awhile!

The idea of experiencing a New England fall while encased in glass and plastic is something of an anathema to me. Autumn is a season of the senses, and it needs to be felt / smelled / tasted / heard to be enjoyed to its fullest. Get out of your car every once in awhile and explore a bit, take a walk, feed a horse an apple, or talk to a local (they don’t bite!). Check out the common roadside fruit and cheese stands (bring cash, most work on the honor system), take a quick hike, walk across a covered bridge.

Some of the best sites are not going to be found when you’re bumper to bumper with other tourists. Keep a lookout for signs signaling hiking trails or scenic overlooks, for farms which offer tours or food sampling, or just a convenient place to pull over for awhile. Stop and smell the cider, or the cheese (especially if you’re in Grafton), or the maple syrup.

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Do not stop in the middle of the road.

The person behind you expects you to stop for the usual road obstacles like woodchucks and the occasional moose, not a particularly scenic set of trees. If there’s wildlife in front of your car, please do stop, but don’t slam on your brakes if you see a particularly beautiful tree. If you feel the need to stop, please slow down and pull over instead.

If you do feel the need to pull over, try to avoid turning people’s lawns into muddy pits when doing so, as the only thing more frustrating to locals than roads clogged with people driving 10mph is coming out on a lovely, crisp autumn morning to find out that someone has left giant muddy tire tracks in their front yard.

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Patronize local businesses.

The foliage season in New England is one of the biggest money-makers for some of the states in the region, so please don’t just drive through without stopping. This region was especially hard-hit by hurricane Irene, and Vermont in particular is in dire need of the tourist money that usually flows into the state during leaf season.

Vermont and New Hampshire especially, as well as western Massachusetts, are full of old-fashioned little towns with eccentric little cafes, coffee shops, and general stores that would love to meet you and your family. Stop for some cider donuts, candied apples, or other regional specialties. Think of it as a rather tasty form of a road toll.

The best way to visit the region and to help the local economy, though, is to…

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Stay for awhile.

Bed and breakfasts are around every corner in New England, and staying for a few days is a great way to 1. patronize local businesses and 2. ensure that you’ll see great foliage without feeling the need to soak up every last leaf. Who can say no to pancakes topped with local maple syrup, cooked on a wood-burning stove, with the fiery trees of autumn as your view? I know I sure can’t.

So, there you have it.

I hope that this post was useful to anyone considering trekking up to the northeast for some foliage-viewing. I will be posting another piece with advice on how to make the best of a leaf-peeping weekend, so keep your eyes peeled!

6 Comments

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  1. i never knew “we” called the annoying lead tourists leaf peepers!

    • I heard that term used all the time when I was at Hampshire and yes, I came to use it myself as well. I consider myself an adopted New Englander and plan on moving back up there ASAP.

  2. i think in boston we were a lot more crass about how we referred to tourists πŸ˜‰

    are you still thinking of moving to vt?

  3. aw you could be neighbors with peter ;p