On a recent afternoon Susan Allen gazed at a sun-soaked hillside cloaked in a rich autumn palette of red, gold, purple and green. The retiree from Lebanon, Ky., sat licking her lips after savoring a syrup-dipped pickle at the Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks in Montpelier, Vt., a popular stop on central Vermont’s leaf-peeping circuit.
“I love it,” she said of the pickle and the place. “The weather’s been beautiful. The scenery is gorgeous.”
Her traveling companion nodded in agreement. The two of them had heard about floods that devastated parts of the state this summer but, Ms. Allen said, they had not seen any sign of the disaster. Instead, they were in thrall of the farm’s brilliant foliage and maple ice cream, maple fudge, maple kettle corn and, well, maple everything. Jake Shattuck, the Morse Farm owner, said his property was unscathed by the water, and quipped that Vermont “is 98 percent open.”
That wasn’t the case in downtown Montpelier, just three miles away. When record rain fell in July, causing the dangerous flooding, two deaths, millions of dollars in damage and hundreds of rescue missions across the state, Montpelier’s vibrant downtown of shops, restaurants and state offices was transformed into a muddy wasteland. Montpelier, the capital of Vermont, was one of the hardest hit cities in an extreme weather event Gov. Phil Scott described as “historic and catastrophic.”
On Oct. 6, Montpelier threw a street party and celebrated the reopening of a handful of businesses but the city’s largest hotel, the Capitol Plaza, remains shuttered. Most of the town swirls with construction dust and reverberates with the din of power tools as downtown businesses labor to reopen by the end of the year.
In early September, Vermont tourism officials launched a $200,000 marketing campaign proclaiming the state “Very Much Open.” The goal is to reassure visitors that Vermont is ready to welcome them, not only the two million visitors who come every year to see Vermont’s famous display of fall foliage, but also the more than three million skiers who follow.
As the marquee on one of Montpelier’s movie theaters wryly announced in black lettering, “We will be back after a brief intermission.”
The wettest month ever
According to the National Weather Service in Burlington, Vt., up to two feet of rain fell on Central and Southern Vermont from June through August, making 2023 the wettest summer on record for the state. Over a foot of rain fell in…