Cell phones and cameras in hand, thousands of tourists from across the globe have begun their annual descent on Vermont in search of idyllic New England fall foliage. But there is one destination in the Green Mountain state that has been closed to visitors this year, and officials say TikTok is largely to blame.
"Foliage is definitely our peak season," explained Windsor County Sheriff Ryan Palmer as he drove through the center of Pomfret, Vermont, one Tuesday morning.
Pomfret is a town of just 864 residents. But in recent weeks it's been thrust into national headlines, following the decisions by officials to close off access to Sleepy Hollow Farm.
"It just became a quality-of-life issue for residents," said Palmer, who is also a lifelong Vermont resident.
Sleepy Hollow Farm's roots date back to the 1700's but its latest chapter in history has nothing to do with farming and everything to do with social media.
In recent years, countless social media users and photographers have clogged Cloudland Road where Sleepy Hollow farm is located; most looking to replicate fall foliage pictures they've seen on TikTok and Instagram.
From thinking the barn was a bathroom to having a picnic on the homeowner's back porch to blocking emergency vehicles — the intrusion forced Palmer, along with town officials and homeowners, to say enough is enough.
The road to Sleepy Hollow Farm is now closed off to tourists. "No parking" signs and "no picture-taking" signs line the property. That decision rocketed what was just a town dispute into international headlines.
"We see in Vermont that in certain seasons people forget this is our home too and forget to treat it with respect. Come to Vermont, we want you to visit, but please just be respectful," Palmer said.
The whole situation has become a paradox of sorts for an otherwise sleepy town that welcomes tourists year-round.
"Our town is fed by tourism and we have to be welcoming, but people that come to visit have to realize people live here, and it's just basic human decency," said artist Tara Wray, who has photographed the farm through all of Vermont's seasons.
Like many here, Wray understands why some are upset the road is now closed this fall. But she also saw firsthand the hundreds of cars that would often line Cloudland Road.
"It's just about basic human decency, respect for your neighbors, whether they're actually your neighbors, respect that people live in the places you're visiting," Wray added.
Vermont is hardly alone in experiencing overcrowding driven by social media. In Yosemite National Park, an entire riverbank collapsed a few years ago, overrun with photographers. And in Lake Elsinore, California, people trampled a super bloom of wild poppies this year.
"I think it's just a larger conversation about society and how we treat each other," Palmer said.
For his part, he's hoping the signs to keep people out won't be a permanent fixture on Cloudland Road.
"I hope this dies down and people can move along with their lives," he said.
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