The foliage, scenic view and changing leaves of fall rake tourists into Brown County every year.
The 15,000-person county has become so popular among leaf watchers that county officials begin promoting the season in early September. There’s even an online leaf cam that allows tourists to view a panorama of Brown County State Park. And because of all that hype, fall means big business for the small town.
Eric Harris has been coming to Brown County for close to 15 years to mountain bike. He knows when it’s fall not just because of the changing leaves, but also the increase in tourists.
“It’s pretty early in the season but … you can definitely see a difference in the traffic. There’s a lot more people in town. The leaves are just now starting to change, so it’ll just keep getting busier and busier over the next couple of months,” he says.
Some worry that the possibility of a bad foliage season could hurt tourism. However, Brown County native Ashley Dayton says the lack of colorful leaves won’t affect business at her store.
“With a lot of people it’s tradition, and they come to Brown County in the fall season, so I don’t feel that it affects [tourism] that much because no matter what even if they’re not the very best, they’re still beautiful. It’s still a beautiful town. It still looks great so I don’t think it matters that much.”
Stephanie Kritzer is also a resident of Brown County. She says some residents have mixed emotions about the amount of tourism.
“As far of those of us who live here, it gets kind of crazy. We plan our routes to town because there’s so much traffic and visitors.”
But with the increase in traffic comes an economic advantage.
“We’re seeing some new shops open up which is good for the whole community and so people are getting employed for at least for a little while.”
According to a study from Brown County officials, visitors spent over $34 million in 2013, supporting 642 jobs.
Jenny Sue Whetstine is the manager at Millers Ice Cream House. She says the fall – especially October – is her most profitable time of the year.
“It is the busiest month. I would say we do approximately 20 percent of our business for the entire year in one month.”
Charlie Starling and his family are from Indianapolis. He says the quiet atmosphere and pumpkin patches of Brown County appeal to everyone in his family.
“It’s just a lot of fun. It’s a fun place for us to come and get away and feel like we’re kind of transported out of the city life for a weekend. And take us back to a little bit more relaxing place over here.”
A spokesperson for Brown County State Park says peak fall foliage is usually around late October, but because of unseasonable weather, leaves might not change until later in the season.