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September 17, 2013

Tourism reps eye fall color

By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Temperatures are dropping with autumn’s official start just days away, and along some area hillsides, trees are hinting at changing leaf color.

“They’re starting to pop out,” Patricia Szarpa, executive director of the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce, said Monday. “If the weather stays decent, I’m hoping for a good weekend for PumpkinFest.”

Today’s forecast for the area calls for temperature highs in the lower 60-degrees, with sunny skies, the National Weather Service in Binghamton said, and mostly cloudy skies and possible showers on Saturday and Sunday, with high temperatures reaching the lower 70-degree range Saturday and in the upper 60s Sunday.

While Mother Nature will determine the timing and extent of this year’s autumnal foliage display, tourism officials in Delaware and Otsego counties said area businesses and organizations are gearing up for travelers. The first day of autumn is Sunday.

The state’s I Love New York tourism program reported Wednesday that the first signs of foliage color were spotted in the Adirondacks, with projections for this past weekend of about 15 percent color transition, and in Saugerties in Ulster County at up to 20 percent in pockets.

The remainder of the state reported 10 percent or less color, which local officials said reflected the area. The Empire State Development Division of Tourism’s fall color reports are issued on Wednesdays.

Cooperstown and other Otsego County attractions and businesses are looking to be busy until Columbus Day, a three-day weekend, and into mid-October, Szarpa said, and operators individually and as chamber members are looking to capitalize on the fall tourism season.

“It’s one of our shoulder seasons,” she said. “It’s extremely important.”

Train rides, hikes, driving along area roads or paddling in a canoe or kayak are among many options in the region to catch a glimpse of landscape color. Associated activities include harvest festivals, apple picking and visiting museums.

The Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce’s annual PumpkinFest on Saturday and Sunday will feature a giant pumpkin weigh-off, regatta, children’s games, crafts, vendors and other activities.

The Fly Creek Cider Mill will offer tastings of its specialty dips on Saturday and Sunday. Also those days, The Farmers’ Museum is presenting a Quilts and Quilting Weekend.

“Tourism is a big part of the economy of Otsego County,” Amy Lieberman, tourism specialist with the Otsego County Tourism Program, said. 

The autumn season is not as busy as the summer, which has traffic from baseball camps, she said, but businesses and organizations still look to attract visitors. For example, this year for the first time, the Otsego County Conservation Association is holding an Oktoberfest at the Joseph L. Popp Jr. Butterfly Conservatory in Oneonta on Oct. 5.

Otsego Lake and the foliage surrounding it are majors autumn attractions, Lieberman said, and some hotels are promoting lower rates before closing for the winter.

Brent Baysinger, manager of Canoe & Kayak Sales and Rentals in Portlandville said business slows after the summer demand from baseball campers, their families and others.

However, Baysinger said, his business is seasonal, closing for winter, and could benefit from more tourism promotions. Kayaking and canoeing could be enhanced with development of campsites and docking sites along the Susquehanna River, he said.

“There certainly is room for improvement,” he said.

Meanwhile, kayaking and canoeing remains an option from the Portlandville business into October to watch birds and observe autumnal hues and see the reflection of trees in quiet waters of Goodyear Lake, Baysinger said.

“As the leaves change, it’s quite a scenic experience since it’s so calm here,” he said. “We really do have a wonderful product in all of our beautiful rivers, mountains and lakes.”

Travel spending amounts to about $88 million annually in Delaware County, Jim Thomson, tourism director for the Delaware county chamber of Commerce, said, of which he estimated about 35 percent is generated during fall foliage and tourism season.

Reservoirs are beautiful, especially during the autumn, Thomson said. Scenic rides to see foliage are offered by the Delaware and Ulster Railroad, he said, and tourists and wedding parties take a different view by riding chair lifts to Plattekill and Belleayre mountain tops. And scenery around the Pepacton and Cannonsville reservoirs is awesome, he said.

Typically the peak of foliage color is just before Columbus Day, Thomson said, who turned in a “leaf peeper” report to the state Monday that indicated no change in foliage in Delaware County.

“It’s right around the corner,” he said.” It will change really fast.”