By John Toole
---- — The federal government shutdown isn’t shutting out leaf peepers in New Hampshire.
Though federal facilities are closed, the beauty of the White Mountain National Forest remains open to tourists.
People are free to drive the Kancamagus Highway through the forest and view the colors.
Forecasting 7.8 million visitors will spend more than $1 billion in the Granite State this year, state officials are pushing tourists toward state park campsites and its own Websites for foliage updates.
“Everything is open and accessible,” said Tai Freligh, a spokesman for New Hampshire Travel and Tourism. “There are no gates people can’t go past. Don’t cancel your trip. You can definitely go places and enjoy them.”
The White Mountain National Forest had a shutdown advisory posted yesterday.
“Due to the lapse in federal government funding, the U.S. Forest Service, as with other federal agencies, is closed with the exception of certain essential services,” it read. “However, we will attempt to make timely updates about public health and safety on these web pages as appropriate. We sincerely regret this inconvenience.”
The closure also will affect 20 or more private campgrounds in the forest, though Freligh said he understood they would remain open through this weekend.
Freligh’s message for tourists was don’t be discouraged by what’s happened in Washington.
“You may not see a ranger or have access to bathroom facilities, but you can still go and experience the foliage,” he said.
The state posts its own foliage report at VisitNH.gov.
“If you’re looking for peak color this weekend, head up to the White Mountains region, where many areas are peaking right now,” the report said yesterday.
“The color is fantastic right now in the White Mountains,” Freligh said.
The Division of Parks and Recreation let people know the state remains open for leaf peepers.
“N.H. State Parks are not part of the government shutdown,” its website said.
Tourists could click on a list of campgrounds and operating hours.
The state tourism website let people know it was mainly business as usual.
“Travel and tourism in New Hampshire has been largely unaffected by the shutdown,” it said.
“Our concern was to make sure people knew we were not part of the shutdown,” spokesman Amy Bassett said.
The federal government shutdown didn’t stop tourists from going north to see the foliage.
“We are still getting our crowds,” said Melissa Puga, rental manager with Rivergreen Resort in Lincoln.
There was no vacancy at the resort, which has 85 units.
“We are full this weekend,” Puga said.
Tourists planning to see the foliage this weekend said the National Forest closure would not affect them.
Bill Needham of Little Compton, R.I., said his family would be checking the foliage as they traveled to Santa’s Village and Franconia Notch.
“New Hampshire’s state parks are the best in New England,” he said.
Benita Black and her daughter, Melanie Koch, of Metropolis, Ill., planned to stay in Twin Mountain.
“We hope this won’t affect us too much,” Black said.
They planned to drive the countryside so Koch could see the New Hampshire foliage for the first time.
Lois Townshend of Plymouth, Mass., was passing through New Hampshire on the way to Vermont for a biking trip with friends. She said the National Forest closure wouldn’t affect them.
“It bothers me in terms of the shutdown because we would like to see the Republicans and Democrats resolve this with some old-time compromise like they used to,” she said.
Needham also was troubled by the politics behind the forest closure.
“No matter how you vote, they seem to be self-serving people who are going to do what they want to do,” he said.