- Associated Press - Sunday, September 4, 2011

MONTPELIER, VT. (AP) The flood damage in New England is all but certain to hurt Vermont’s vital leaf-peeping season, when thousands of tourists come to see the autumn colors, pick apples, visit craft fairs and, at the end of the day, go to sleep under a down comforter at a historic inn.

Some inns have closed because of damage to roads or rooms from the rainy remnants of Hurricane Irene. A few harvest festivals scheduled for mid-September, when the leaves begin to turn, have been called off.

And resorts are receiving cancellations from would-be guests who are afraid - rightly or wrongly - that yuh can’t get there from heah, as they say in New England.

“Obviously, the storm is going to scare some folks away,” said Chris Danforth, director of sales and marketing at the Killington resort.

Despite the crumbled roads and washed-out bridges, Vermont tourism officials are trying mightily to get the word out that the state is open for business and should be OK for the fall foliage season, which brings in more than $300 million in business for the state each year.

“If you want to show us a little love and kindness, spend your tourist dollars in Vermont. Huge parts of Vermont are entirely unaffected,” Gov. Peter Shumlin said Friday. “You can travel our goat paths in the south or our superhighways across the state, but we need your love and your dollars now.”

How much of an effect the damage will have on ski season, which generally starts between late October and early December, is unclear.

Major ski resorts said they don’t think they will have any problems, but state officials are not ready to say when the roads might be fixed.

The east-west Route 4 from Rutland to Killington and Woodstock and Route 9 through flood-ravaged Wilmington, home of the Mount Snow ski area, are top priorities.

“Until we have a better understanding of the magnitude of this, we don’t want to give predictions,” Deputy Transportation Commissioner Sue Minter said. Her agency is still concentrating on helping the victims cut off by the flooding.

Highway repair crews have a very small window in which to fix the roads. Cathy Voyer, president of the Vermont chapter of the Associated General Contractors, said paving and pouring of concrete will have to stop once the snows set in. That typically happens in November in the mountains.

For her part, the state’s tourism commissioner is letting visitors know on the state’s website and through Twitter, Facebook and public service announcements that many beautiful parts of the state were untouched by the storm.

She has talked to tourism officials in New Orleans who dealt with Hurricane Katrina about how to overcome the devastating images in the news and is encouraging innkeepers to contact their guests.

“We have three weeks to get ready for foliage, and they think the leaves are certainly fine,” Tourism Commissioner Meghan Smith said. “I feel like we’re going to be able to get the main artery roads back on track.”