As New Hampshire gears up for one of its biggest tourism weekends of the year, the state’s Division of Travel and Tourism is pushing one simple, post-Irene slogan: “New Hampshire is Open for Business.”
But is it really?New Hampshire residents and visitors are still having a hard time navigating the post-Irene roads. This morning, Concord Monitor reporter Molly A.K. Connors opened her story about the problem with this tale of White Mountains tourism, interrupted:
“Brenda Lizine watched as a friendly staffer at the visitors center in Lincoln highlighted alternative routes for her on a map.
‘Oh my god,’ Lizine said as she realized about 15 miles of the Kancamagus Highway would be closed for at least another two weeks.
She felt no better when she learned she also wouldn’t be able to reach her destination – about 30 minutes from Conway – through Route 302, which is closed at Hart’s Location.
‘You’d think they’d have signs,’ said Lizine, who traveled with her husband and two school-aged sons from Chelmsford, Mass., yesterday.
The state has, in fact put up signs. They’re just not what travelers like Lizine have in mind.
‘NH is open for business,’ says the state Department of Transportation sign in southern New Hampshire on Interstate 93.
‘Call 2-1-1 for road info,’ it instructs.
But if travelers like the Lizines don’t dial 2-1-1 or visit the Department of Transportation’s website, they won’t learn that the Kancamagus Highway is impassable from the Discovery Trail head to Bear Notch Road in Albany until they have already turned onto Route 112 from I-93’s exit 32.”
As New Hampshire struggles to fix roads and bridges damaged by Tropical Storm Irene, the state
fears much-needed Labor Day tourists could be put-off. And although they’re open, how much business restaurants, retailers and hotels will do remains an open question, according to Division of Travel and Tourism spokesman Tai Freligh. “A normal Labor Day weekend is usually our second busiest holiday weekend of the year…after the Fourth of July weekend…summer’s our busiest season, and those are really the bookends of summer, ” he says. “Last year, we estimated that there’d be about 530 thousand visitors to New Hampshire, and they would spend about 71 million.”
And this year?
“This year is kind of a different situation. We’re not really looking at numbers, because everything’s kind of up in the air.”
Part of the problem, Freligh says, is confusion over which roads are open, and where they’re closed. The White Mountains, where stretches of the two main east-west roads–the Kancamagus Highway and Route 302–are still closed, could feel more of a pinch. He says there’s also a bit of a Vermont Effect in play, with travelers confusing that state’s devastation with New Hampshire’s lesser level of damage. “I think short-term, there’s probably a perception issue, ” Freligh says, “but long-term, we just keep getting the word out that, you know, we’re here, we’re open, and we’re welcoming visitors.”
“…some may be discouraged by the reports of devastation up north or even forced to stay home since they have no electricity or need to make their own repairs after Sunday’s storm, according to Pat Moody, spokesman for AAA of Northern New England.
‘I would imagine a lot of travel on the East Coast will be affected,’ he said. ‘People are going to want to get away, but if there is too much damage to their home, they are going to stay put.’
The storm cleanup is virtually complete in Southern New Hampshire and the Merrimack Valley. But some New Englanders will spend the holiday weekend in their backyards, removing branches and downed trees.
Many are just waiting for their power to be restored.
In Massachusetts alone, 42,000 homes and businesses remained in the dark last night, according to National Grid and NStar. In the Granite State yesterday, Public Service of New Hampshire was busy restoring electricity for several hundred still without power.”
Ireland also reports that higher-than-normal gas prices have AAA projecting a 2.3 percent drop in New England tourism over Labor Day weekend.
If you’re looking for specific road closures, the New Hampshire Department of Transportation has an updated map of road closures and conditions, posted here.