It was a simple headline on the cover of a state magazine that launched an all-out fall foliage feud between the Grand Canyon State of Arizona and the Green Mountain State of Vermont.
The main text on the front of the upcoming October issue of Arizona Highways was innocuous enough: “Autumn in Arizona.” It was the words in small print under it -- “… And Why It’s Better Here Than It Is In Vermont” -- that have galvanized leaf peepers on both sides of the continent.
Arizona Highways’ editor Robert Stieve said the story has exploded ever since an Associated Press reporter in Vermont picked it up earlier this week. “We’ve had tremendous coverage around the country, in both print and broadcast. We’ve also been inundated with emails from readers, most of who are strongly defending the honor of Vermont,” he said.
Stieve conceded that Vermont is “the gold standard” when it comes to fall color. “However, Arizona trumps Vermont and other places in New England when it comes to the length of our fall season. Because of our geography, we’re blessed in Arizona with a fall season that begins in early September on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, among other places, and runs into early December at places like Aravaipa Canyon and other locations in Southern Arizona.”
Stieve’s personal pick for fall foliage is the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. “There’s only one place in the world where you can see the golden leaves of an aspen tree with the Grand Canyon as a backdrop,” he said. “I love Vermont, but they don’t have the Grand Canyon.”
Maybe not, but the state does have the Quechee Gorge. Vermont Life released a mock cover of its magazine in response to the Arizona Highways jab that read: “Gorges in Vermont … And Why Quechee Gorge Is Grander Than The Grand Canyon.” The tongue-in-cheek response also promised a story on how “millions of foliage tourists can’t be wrong.”
Jen Butson of the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing said it’s important to note that “their magazine cover is real and ours from Vermont Life is not.” She said Vermonters are “more lovers than fighters.”
In all seriousness, however, Butson added that fall foliage is a big business in the Green Mountain State. “Vermont was the first state to use state dollars toward tourism promotion in the 1890s and has promoted fall as early back as the 1940s with the advent of Vermont Life Magazine,” which is published by the state of Vermont.
Indeed, a cover from 1947, provided by Butson, shows a woman painting the leaves in the forests of Vermont in various shades of red, orange and yellow, making it abundantly clear that the state’s love affair with its trees is nothing new.
Vermont welcomes 3.5 million visitors in the fall these days -- about five-and-a-half times its tiny population. As such, tourism is a major industry here, bringing about $131 million each fall.
Given these figures, it’s easy to understand how a little fall foliage feud can rumple Vermonters feathers and make headlines in just about every newspaper in the state. Yet, both Butson and Stieve concede that the friendly spat has brought with it welcomed attention. “It’s been a wonderful exchange with the great people of Vermont,” Stieve said, “and it’s been great exposure for both states in terms of promoting the natural beauty of Arizona and Vermont.”