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In spite of rain, Vt. open to tourism

Monday - 7/15/2013, 5:03pm  ET

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin speaks at a news conference on Monday, July 15, 2013 in Burlington, Vt. Shumlin says in spite of the wet weather this summer, the state is still open for tourism. The steady rain since Memorial Day has affected an otherwise robust summer season in the state. Last year, for example, state parks saw about 920,000 visitors, a number that has dropped about 25 percent this year so far.(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

DAVE GRAM

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) -- You know it's been a rainy summer in Vermont if the governor holds a news conference to announce the sun is out.

Gov. Peter Shumlin joined state and private tourism officials under a broiling sun and high humidity, with temperatures climbing to the mid-90s on Monday, at the downhill end of Burlington's Church Street Marketplace to boost spirits dampened by record early-summer rains.

"We've had a wet start to the summer season and that's been tough on weather-dependent businesses," the governor said. "But the sun is shining, and Vermonters and out of state visitors alike are ready to get out and enjoy the state."

At the National Weather Service in Burlington, forecaster Brooke Taber said 2013 had seen the wettest May and June on record. Both approached three times the normal rainfall, with the first two weeks of July easing off to not quite twice the normal rain.

Shumlin was joined for Monday's event by the heads of the Vermont and Lake Champlain Regional Chambers of Commerce, leaders in the mountain resort and bicycling industries, the Frog Hollow Vermont State Craft Center and others.

Betsey Bishop of the state Chamber of Commerce talked up the long list of summer festivals in Vermont celebrating everything from music to local craft beers to barbecue.

"From festivals to outdoor dining, every part of the Vermont experience engages travelers on a variety of levels and boosts our economy," she said.

Shumlin said it was too early to tell what impact the wet weather has had on tourism-dependent state revenue streams like taxes on sales, rooms and meals; the new fiscal year just began July 1. But he said it was likely to be felt.

Tourism-related tax and fee revenue totaled nearly $275 million in 2011, equal to about a fifth of the state's $1.3 billion general fund budget. Tourism spending also supports nearly 40,000 jobs, with more than 13 percent job growth in the hospitality and recreation sector since 2009, officials said.

Craig Whipple, director of the Vermont State Parks, said combined visits by campers and day users hit a record 920,000 last year and appeared to be off 20 to 25 percent so far this year.

Tom Stuessy, executive director of the Vermont Mountain Bike Association, said nearly 100 percent of trails overseen by the group's affiliates had been closed for some part of May and June due to wet conditions; nearly 100 percent are open now, he added.

Although the Church Street Marketplace, with its brick-lined pedestrian walkway and outdoor restaurant and pub tables lining the thoroughfare, is a key tourist destination, Bishop said she hoped visitors to Burlington also would venture out to other parts of Vermont.

A few yards up Church Street, Daniel and Melissa Nathan and their three young boys, visiting from Columbus, Ohio, said they were planning on doing just that, beating the heat in the Lake Champlain valley by heading up to camp in the Green Mountains.

"We got into Burlington yesterday, but we're heading up to go camping at Smugglers Notch," Melissa Nathan said.


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