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Columbus Day: They came, they saw, they peeped

October 16, 2009
WOODSTOCK - A little rain, a lot of sunshine and some of the most brilliant fall colors in recent years added up to a busy, if not successful, Columbus Day weekend.

In the White Mountains and points north, peak foliage ran down the hillsides, sometimes like water colors in the rain, because rain started the day on both Saturday and Sunday.

But no matter. By 10:30 a.m., on Saturday, Day one of the three-day weekend, traffic began backing up about half a mile where the Kancamagus Highway intersects with Interstate 93 in North Woodstock.

"People aren't worrying alot about the color of the sky, as much as they are about the color of the leaves," said Jayne O'Connor, president of White Mountain Attractions in North Woodstock. "The first thing people are asking is where do I go to see the leaves?"

It was a question that would be asked numerous times throughout the weekend, she said Monday.

Northbound traffic on I-93 Friday night gave some indication of what people were planning to do - canoeing, kayaking, camping, sightseeing, though it was unclear what the people towing snowmobiles had planned.

A woman from Ayer, Mass., who brought her family to Lost River Gorge and Boulder Caves Saturday night for its annual Halloween event, said her Columbus Day pilgrimage is one she has done every year since she was 17.

In the dark of the gorge, she explained that is a tradition in her family to come up for the long weekend, as a way to get ready for the long winter ahead. The big part of the weekend is driving across the Kancamagus Highway, which is always bumper to bumper for the better part of the holiday.

At 44, she's only missed one year and that was back in 2005.

"I couldn't come up and it ended up being the worst year of my life," she said.

At Polly's Pancake Parlor, Nancy Aldrich, who's family has run the Sugar Hill landmark for years, said that for many people, fall is a time of nostalgia and they don't mind waiting for the chance to reconnect with happier times.

"We had two women in their 40s who came in here and they had been adopted as girls," Aldrich said. "They came to Polly's about 25 years ago and they had been determined to come back ever since then. The reason they said is because whenever they had felt lonely or needing some security, they would think of Polly's. For a lot of people, fall gives them a sense of continuity."

That's part of the reason that come every autumn, Aldrich pulls out her skirts, which feature falling leaves and fall colors.'

"It sounds silly, but I began to realize a few years ago that people really remember that - it really sticks in their mind that this is what I wear."

One trend tourism officials continue to note is that people, as they have for the past several years, are waiting until the last minute to make their travel plans.

"(Friday) afternoon, there were still vacancy signs at the hotels here," O'Connor said. "But when I came to work (Saturday) morning - and that was early - all those places had no vacancy signs."

As the day went on Saturday, the skies cleared and the number of available rooms was drying up.

"It is very hard to find a room right now," O'Connor said at about 11 a.m. "People who decided to come up late will spend a lot of the day looking for a room."

Martin Lord and Osman
Salmon Press
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