This fall, two Vermont towns have closed popular roads for foliage viewing and photo taking at the request of property owners and road residents.
In August, at the request of road residents, the town of Pomfret decided to close Cloudland and Barber Hill Roads where leaf-peepers flock to see and photograph Sleepy Hill Farm. The Pomfret Select Board, in response to pushback, has allowed that residents of Pomfret and Woodstock, delivery drivers, EMS and others will be permitted to use the roads.
This week it’s been reported that another Vermont road, Jenne Road in Reading, will likewise be closed to tourists during foliage. The attraction there is the Jenne Farm, another bucolic photo-op. In both of these, cases, the towns will rely on periodic checks by local sheriffs to make sure the road closure signs are being heeded.
Such closures seem draconian, legally questionable, and downright inhospitable to the visitors who fill our state coffers.
First, is there some lesser action that could be taken? Private security near the two farms in question? Or public safety officers patrolling the roads to prevent people from blocking traffic flow or illegally parking or entering the farms and private property?
Secondly, it’s a pretty hard argument to make that any Vermont citizen or anyone legally driving a licensed, insured, and registered vehicle may be prohibited from using a publicly funded public way. Local, state, and federal tax dollars make their way into our roads. We all have a right to use all of them - unless there’s been some natural disaster or emergency declaration.
It’s hard to fathom how this is going to be enforced. What about residents driving rental cars with out-of-state plates? Are people going to have to provide proof of residence or permission to visit a resident. This seems cumbersome, time consuming and too bulky to be effective.
Finally, Vermont is the premiere foliage destination in New England. State marketing efforts have been successful in position the state that way and it is counterintuitive to send a message that is not just unfriendly, but downright hostile.
We muddle through the inconvenience of mud season. Surely Vermonters can welcome those who want to share in our autumn splendor without resorting to this.