By Doug Ireland
---- — With today marking the first day of fall, some people in Southern New Hampshire may start to notice the green leaves slowly changing colors.
But farther north, tourism officials and merchants are seeing green of a different kind.
The foliage this fall is expected to be spectacular, according to Fred Borman, a forestry educator with the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension.
"Overall, I think it's going to be as good of a year as we can expect," said Borman, a forester for 31 years.
Warm, sunny days and cool nights, especially in the last week, are starting to bring out those bright colors, he said. "From what I've seen, the trees are looking pretty healthy," Borman said. "The maples are starting to turn."
That's good news for New Hampshire's tourism industry, which took a hit last fall because of less-than-ideal foliage and the impact of Tropical Storm Irene. Businesses are hoping for a profitable autumn.
An unwelcome combination of above-average rain, heat and humidity — along with a fungus outbreak — led to one of the worst foliage seasons ever last year, according to University of New Hampshire botany professor Barrett Rock.
Instead of seeing the usual bursts of vibrant red and orange leaves, leaf peepers were greeted by yellow, muted foliage.
Tropical Storm Irene's wrath in northern New England was so severe, many travelers canceled their plans. Seeing photos of downed trees and washed-out roads and bridges, especially in Vermont, made them think twice about making a trip.
Although conditions in much of New Hampshire were fine, tourists were still under the impression roads were closed. One tour bus company said 11 motorcoach trips to see foliage were canceled within a two-week period.
But that won't happen again this year, said Tai Freligh, spokesman for the New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism Development.
The nearly perfect weather in recent weeks — with no major storms — has stoked his optimism.
"Everything is free and clear this year," he said. "We're already hearing from businesses it's probably one of the best years in years for foliage."
An estimated 7.9 million people are expected to visit the Granite State this fall, spending approximately $1.07 billion — slightly more than last year, Freligh said.
A lot of that cash will be spent in Southern New Hampshire, where owners of local farmstands were gearing up for a successful season this week.
Even soaring gas prices aren't expected to prevent many travelers from hitting the roads this fall, according to Pat Moody, spokesman for AAA of Northern England.
But the high prices, which he said averaged $3.89 per gallon throughout the state Thursay, are expected to lead to shorter visits for some, Moody said. "They are getting out, but some are a little bit more budget conscious," he said.
The average of $3.89 per gallon for regular is 30 cents more than this time last year. Gasoline prices are just starting to drop, Moody said.
The state tourism office is working to lure more visitors to the state with the help of social networking. People are connecting with the office through its website, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest to assist with their travel plans, Freligh said.
The office also just began offering a free foliage application for mobile devices called Don't Leaf Home Without It!
It provides foliage reports, maps, photographs and peak percentages for each region in the state. The app can be downloaded by searching for "New Hampshire Foliage Tracker" in either the Apple app store or Google Play for Android.