Autumn’s colors drawing tourists

By Katie Demeria

Over the next month, visitors will flock to the valley to get a taste of what residents enjoy every year: the vibrant fall colors.

According to tourism officials in many localities, October is by far the most popular month to visit the area due to the foliage. And local tree experts said this year will be very colorful.

Karen Beck-Herzog, public affairs officer with Shenandoah National Park, said visitation numbers range between 250,000 to 275,000 in October. In July or August, the typical numbers vary between 150,000 and 175,000.

“A little under 25 percent of our visitation comes in October alone,” she said.

Tim Smith, tourism coordinator for Warren County, said this month is also the most popular in Front Royal. He said that, since the first weekend in October, Front Royal hotels have been booked, along with bed and breakfasts.

“We had over 11,000 visitors through the door last week,” Smith said of the town’s visitor center. “And we’ll probably get that number next week, too.”

Winchester and Frederick County are experiencing the same influx in visitors, according to Sally Coates, executive director of the Winchester-Frederick County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Hotels are already experiencing high occupancy rates, she said.

Jenna French, director of tourism and marketing for Shenandoah County, said the county expects to see the highest numbers in visitation within the next few weeks, when the colors reach their peak.

She said they expect the leaves to peak between Oct. 10 and Oct. 20, which is what they have been telling interested visitors who call the tourism office.

“But we are already seeing people come through as a result of just anticipating the leaves,” she added.

Smith said many people are driven to the area to see the leaves in Shenandoah National Park and to drive down Skyline Drive. They oftentimes stop by the town to visit and walk down Main Street.

“It brings business to the area, people walk around Front Royal, which helps business owners,” he said. “It’s a good time of year for everyone, even coffee shops and antique shops will see more people.”

Tourism instantly produces revenue for the area, Coates pointed out.

“Every minute that people come to our area and check into hotels, buy merchandise, visit restaurants, spend money on gas — it all increases tax revenue,” she said.

Last year’s government shutdown, which caused Shenandoah National Park to close, hindered tourism in the area, but Smith said he expects this year to be just as popular as usual.

Even Shenandoah County uses the park to bring people to the area, French pointed out. Visitors will confuse the county with the park, and when they call she said the office will direct them to the park, but explain the attractions within the county, as well.

But, she added, she also tries to remind people that the area is beautiful all year round.

“I would just always encourage people that, while they think of the valley for the fall and foliage, it’s also beautiful in the spring, when the flowers are blooming on the trees,” she said. “They should experience all four seasons in the valley, too.”

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com