- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 16, 2009

New Hampshire’s famed foliage route, the Kancamagus Scenic Byway, is celebrating its 50th birthday, so it’s about time everyone learned how to pronounce it correctly.

For Massachusetts residents: Think “Kanc-ah-MAU-gus rhymes with Saugus.”

For everyone else: Pretend you’re a local and call it “The Kanc.”

With that out of the way, you can enjoy the 34.5-mile road that winds through the White Mountains between the towns of Lincoln and Conway and the stunning scenery that once was known only to loggers, forest rangers, homesteaders and the hardiest of hikers.

Construction on the two-lane highway began from both ends in the 1930s and, after being halted by World War II in the 1940s, continued until 1956, when there was just a one-mile gap between the two roads. Crews had saved the most difficult stretch for last, however, and it took another three years to finish the job.

The road opened in the summer of 1959 without fanfare, but it didn’t take long for it to attract visitors, particularly during the fall.

“It was something an awful lot of people had wanted for years and years and years. Even though there was no public announcement, word spread by word-of-mouth,” says Dick Hamilton, who spent more than three decades promoting tourist spots in the area as president of White Mountain Attractions Association. “That fall was really the kickoff of it becoming the best fall foliage route in New England.”

Norman Stevens, 83, worked on three sections of the road, starting in 1949. He lives in York, Maine, but has returned to the highway over the years with his wife.

“It’s a beautiful place with all the foliage and all the spots along to see it. I enjoy [it] probably more than a lot of people because there’s so many things that I recognize and are familiar to me,” he says.

Jean Stevens recalls the three summers she and her three children spent in the area while her husband worked on the road.

“It’s God’s country, really,” she says. “When we came up here and stayed for the kids’ vacation, it was just magic for all of us.”

Today, the traffic often is bumper-to-bumper during autumn weekends, with an estimated 1 million visitors a year passing through.

Mr. Hamilton admits traffic approaches “impossible” levels but says it largely regulates itself as drivers pull over to snap pictures.

“And they go slow enough because the scenery is so gorgeous, you don’t want to go faster,” he says.

Though several ski areas are close to the Kanc and there are a number of hotels and family-friendly attractions at either end, there’s no development along the highway. The Kanc itself is all about the region’s natural beauty: Numerous signs remind drivers that there are no gas stations along the route and call attention to hiking trails, campgrounds and scenic overlooks.

Though the views are lovely year-round, autumn brings out the best along the Kanc, and New Hampshire takes its fall foliage seriously. The state Division of Travel and Tourism issues “leaf peeper” reports along with text-message alerts and will be using Twitter and Facebook to post foliage updates and pictures.

Karen Bennett, a forestry specialist with the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, says the early summer’s heavy rain is good news for foliage fans.

“Trees need water, and they do very well with a lot of rain. So it’s all good as far as I’m concerned,” she says.

What makes the Kanc’s colors so memorable? Maples, Miss Bennett says.

“All our hardwoods turn a pretty color, but it’s probably the maples that give it that kiss of brightness. They bring in the reds and the brighter oranges,” she says.

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