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May 23. 2013 7:47PM

To get away, they come to NH

The New Hampshire tourism forecast for Memorial Day weekend is far sunnier than its meteorological counterpart, with officials predicting a slight jump in visitors and spending over this time last year.

Citing a report by the Institute for New Hampshire Studies, state tourism officials say they estimate 540,000 visitors will stream into the Granite State today through Monday, up 1 percent over last year. They expect those visitors to set regional cash registers ringing to the tune of $88 million — a 2 percent increase over the 2012 Memorial Day weekend totals.

“New Hampshire is a great place to get away to for the long weekend,” said Lori Harnois, director of the New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism. “Many of our state parks, attractions and businesses are opening for the summer season starting this weekend.”

Those predictions come as weather forecasters call for showers and thunderstorms much of Friday. According to the National Weather Service, Saturday is expected to be cloudy, with a 50 percent chance of rain. Temperatures are expected to reach the mid-60s today, but could drop into the 50s Saturday into Sunday. The forecast calls for possible sunshine late Sunday and again on Monday, with temperatures on the rise Memorial Day afternoon.

Most of the visitors to New Hampshire this weekend, the fourth busiest holiday of the year for the state, will be from New England and New York, according to Tai Freligh, communications manager for the Division of Travel & Tourism Development. The July 4th weekend is tops, followed by Labor Day. Columbus Day and Memorial Day trade off year to year in the third and fourth spots, said Freligh.

He said the number of visitors from Canada will likely be higher than last year, and that the weekend projections position the state’s tourism industry for a strong summer season.

“Last summer we had 13.4 million visitors come to New Hampshire and spend $1.83 billion and this year we expect the season to be on par or better,” said Freligh.

Those driving here will be paying more at the pumps for gas than they were paying just a week ago.

Gas prices have risen in New Hampshire over the last few weeks, but are still below the national average. The website Gasbuddy.com puts the average retail price for a gallon of gas at $3.45 in New Hampshire as of Thursday, up 1.9 cents in the last week. That puts current prices 23.9 cents per gallon lower than the same day a year ago, but 2.8 cents per gallon higher than a month ago.

Filling up at the Kwik Stop Mobil Station on Hanover Street in Manchester Thursday, Eileen Nevins of Toms River, N.J., said the rising cost of gas — or the deteriorating weather forecast — never caused her to reconsider her trip north.

“I have family here, so it’s a trip we try to make every year,” said Nevins. “We like to get an early start and beat the rush. The weather, whatever...we’re here and ready for some family time.”

On Thursday, the website NewHampshiregasprices.com listed the highest reported price for regular unleaded in the state as $3.69 a gallon at four different stations in Newton, Twin Mountain, Plaistow and Bretton Woods. The lowest, according to the website, was $3.33 a gallon at a Gulf station in Tilton.

The national average increased 8.9 cents per gallon in the last week, to $3.67. The price has increased 16.6 cents per gallon during the last month and stands 3 cents per gallon lower than a year ago. Gasoline prices at the pump have been climbing for 15 days in a row, and motorists this Memorial Day likely face the highest prices they’ve paid over the holiday since 2011, according to AAA.

“AAA is forecasting Memorial Day travel to experience a slight dip as lower gas prices and economic improvements from last year are not strong enough to spur an increase in travelers,” said Pat Moody, AAA Northern New England manager of public affairs. “Still, the projections are in line with what we’ve seen in travel over Memorial Day since 2010.”

Many of New Hampshire’s major attractions target Memorial Day as the start to their seasons, offering deals on admission, food and lodging.

Clark’s Trading Post, the Hobo Railroad and Loon Mountain, all located in Lincoln, all open Saturday for the season, with weekend hours available through May and into early June. Story Land of Glen begins its 59th season on Saturday, which is also opening day for Santa’s Village and Six Gun City in Jefferson.

Troopers from New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine state police held a press conference at the Interstate 93 rest area in Salem Thursday morning to announce they would have additional patrols on local roads through the weekend.

In New Hampshire, there will be high-visibility patrols from the Bay State border up to the Hooksett tolls, and along the Seacoast between Massachusetts and Maine. The patrols will use aircraft, officers on motorcycles, laser and radar to try and deter dangerous behavior.

“Impaired and especially distracted driving has become an issue over the last several years with the advent and increase of electronic device and GPS devices,” said Maj. Russ Conte of the New Hampshire State Police. “All those things can take your eyes off the road.”

Conte said state police will have units out trained in detecting drunken drivers.

pfeely@unionleader.com


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