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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Dec. 7, 2023

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Vt. blocks popular leaf-peeping spot after social media users misbehave

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People and cars line a narrow road outside a private property in an undated photo, in Pomfret, Vt., that has become a destination for fall foliage viewers, clogging the rural road. The town is closing the road to leaf peepers through mid-October 2023 because it says the increased traffic has caused significant safety, environmental, aesthetic and quality of life issues.
People and cars line a narrow road outside a private property in an undated photo, in Pomfret, Vt., that has become a destination for fall foliage viewers, clogging the rural road. The town is closing the road to leaf peepers through mid-October 2023 because it says the increased traffic has caused significant safety, environmental, aesthetic and quality of life issues. (AP Photo) (Photos by Lisa Rathke/Associated Press) Photo Gallery

POMFRET, Vt. — Social media users take note: You won’t be able to snap that fall foliage selfie at a popular Vermont spot. The town has temporarily closed the road to nonresidents due to overcrowding and “poorly behaved tourists.”

The normally quiet dirt road from Pomfret to Woodstock, home to the frequently photographed Sleepy Hollow Farm, will be open only to residents through mid-October. And local law enforcement plans to enforce it.

In recent years, social media users and photographers have clogged the narrow road for selfies and fall foliage shots of the scenic private property, drawn by its colorful hillside trees, the barn and classic New England home.

Locals say they understand the lure of the beautiful leaves and landscape, but say some visitors have gone too far: blocking traffic with their parked vehicles, obstructing access for residents and emergency vehicles, as well as picnicking and even relieving themselves on private land surrounding the home. One Instagram poster even tipped followers about how easy it is to go around the entrance gate to the private property, which also has surveillance cameras.

“Poorly behaved tourists have damaged roads, had accidents, required towing out of ditches, trampled gardens, defecated on private property, parked in fields and driveways, and verbally assaulted residents,” said the organizers of a GoFundMe site called Save Cloudland Road.

“It’s just a shame,” said local resident Nancy Bassett. “It spoils it for a lot of people.”

Overcrowding driven by social media posts have plagued other destinations around the globe, from a street in Paris to a small city in California that was overrun with visitors when heavy winter rains produced a “super bloom” of wild poppies. Disneyland-sized crowds hit Lake Elsinore, Calif., in 2019 “who trampled the very habitat that they placed so high in regard.”

People illegally parked their cars along the freeway, created gridlock affecting emergency responders and infringed on residents’ ability to shop or even get to work, Lake Elsinore Mayor Natasha Johnson said. This year, the canyons where wild poppies grow and nearby parking areas were completely off-limits.

Zion National Park in Utah took another approach to ease overcrowding and improve safety on its popular Angels Landing hike: Hikers are now required to get a permit.

On that back road in Vermont, the increase in foliage season traffic during the last several years has been spurred “by extraordinary tourism interest in private properties” and caused “significant safety, environmental, aesthetic, and quality of life issues,” the Select Board of Pomfret, a town of just over 900, wrote in a message to the community.

Social media users have reacted in various ways.

“Honestly it has been photographed so many times I don’t see the point anyway,” one wrote on Facebook.

A local milk truck driver advised: “Please, come to VT and enjoy our foliage. It’s amazing. For the love of God, PLEASE pull off the road before stopping to take pics, and please pull off the road instead of driving 25 in a 50.”

Other posters wrote: “Vermont is really beautiful. So are lots of other places,” and, “Why in the world would you want to visit somewhere with a crowd of people?”

The scenic, winding Vermont passage named Cloudland Road is now temporarily closed to nonresidents and lined with no-parking signs and no-photo signs along the farm property. There’s also a no trespassing sign at the gate.

Locals encourage tourists to visit nearby attractions that can accommodate them with parking and other amenities.

“People love the leaves and we understand foliage and it brings people here and we don’t want that to stop,” said Linda Arbuckle, a clerk at the local general store. “Unfortunately some people, not all, have taken it to the next step, where people have come home and people have been on their porches having lunch.”

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