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NH expecting droves of visitors this Memorial Day weekend

  • Julia Pray (right) helps Michael Hurley with his fishing tackle at the Lazy River Campgroud on Friday morning, May 28, 2021. The two families are spending the Memorial Day weekend together.

  • Kacy Hurley serves up a pancake to her daughter, Elizabeth at the Lazy River Campground in Epsom on Friday morning, May 28, 2021. Hurley and her family from Carlisle, Massachusetts joined up the with the Pray family for a Memorial Day weekend camping trip. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • E-ZPass traffic counts fell by more than half when the pandemic shutdown hit and remained lower by about 200,000 trips per week all last year, have largely returned to pre-pandemic levels. NH Dept Transportation—Courtesy

  • The Hurley and Pray families are camping at the Lazy River Campground this Memorial Day weekend. From left, Michael Hurley, Nicholas Pray, Rhiannon Hurley, Julia Pray, Elizabeth Hurley, Kacy Hurley and Daniel Hurley. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Nicholas Pray shows Kacy Hurley a bug as she prepares pancakes for the two families at the Lazy River Campground on Friday morning, May 28, 2021. Elizabeth Hurley looks on at left. Concord Monitor — GEOFF FORESTER

Concord Monitor
Published: 5/28/2021 10:35:41 PM
Modified: 5/28/2021 10:35:38 PM

With the pandemic receding at least for the time being, expectations are growing that Memorial Day could see New Hampshire’s first “normal” holiday weekend since Christmas 2019, for better or for worse.

“We’ve been booked for weeks now. All the other campgrounds around are booked,” said Meghan Werby, office manager at Lazy River campground in Epsom, which can run at full capacity after having to spread people out due to COVID-19 last season.

If there’s a cancellation, Werby said, “spaces are filled up within an hour and a half. ... I’ve been getting phone calls from December for this weekend.”

This is welcome news to the hospitality industry and everybody who’s sick of being stuck at home, but it does show that one of the few silver linings in the pandemic year — less traffic — is ending.

New Hampshire E-ZPass numbers tell the story. They fell by more than half in March 2020 when stay-at-home orders first were imposed, from 2 million trips through the state’s E-ZPass stations each week to fewer than 900,000. Most of that decline was cars rather than trucks, since industry and business shipments remained relatively consistent.

Even when the trip count rose last summer, it remained about one-fifth lower than 2019 numbers for the same period.

No longer. By the start of May the weekly count of E-ZPass trips was back up to 2.1 million, where it had been at the start of March 2020 when the pandemic hit.

AAA of New England predicts there will be 60% more vehicles on the region’s roads this Memorial Day than last year’s — 1.7 million travelers compared with 1 million in 2020.

Big events are bracing for big crowds, on the assumption that there will be pent-up demand from last year’s closings and scrambled schedules. Laconia Motorcycle Week, starting June 12, is typical.

“In my 22 years working with Laconia Motorcycle Week, I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Jennifer Anderson, deputy director for the association running the event. “We’re getting a huge number of people who skipped last year’s rally, either because they couldn’t get here during the rescheduled August dates or just didn’t feel comfortable being around large numbers of people during the pandemic.”

The organization “strongly suggested” that people attending the event should reserve rooms or camping spaces as quickly as possible.

Things are less certain for outdoor spaces like the White Mountain National Forest and state parks, which were swamped last year when most other recreation options were closed. This summer may be less frantic as crowds head elsewhere, although crowding at the more popular locations like Diana’s Baths and Franconia Notch was an issue even before COVID-19.

“If you find trailhead parking areas overflowing onto the highway, then the hiking trail will be crowded. Visitors are encouraged to make another plan and look for a less crowded parking area,” is how the White Mountain National Forest puts its.

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