When it comes to taking an ideal photo, it really doesn’t get any better than peak fall foliage season. It’s almost impossible not to stop and snap a picture when you’re out for a gorgeous fall drive on the East Coast and you come across a picturesque scene. Unfortunately for one tiny town in Vermont, peak fall leaves mean peak tourist season—and the amount of tourists has presented major, unprecedented issues for local residents.
Sleepy Hollow Farm, located in the cozy little hamlet of Pomfret, Vermont, is a private residence that happens to boast one of the most scenic views in the country—especially during the months of September and October. In fact, if you simply search “Sleepy Hollow Farm” on Instagram, you’ll see an endless number of gorgeous photos and selfies from tourists and influencers all over the country.
However, real people live in and around Sleepy Hollow Farm. And the locals have finally had it with tourists who cause hours-long traffic jams, prevent emergency vehicles from being able to safely access residents, and even defecate on private property. And the “road” featured in a vast majority of the photos is actually a family’s private driveway.
“People (are) showing up and walking all over private property and peeing on the side of the road and on private property,” neighbor Mike Doten tells TODAY.
“We see people in dressing rooms like they bring dressing rooms to change in different outfits and take pictures,” said another neighbor, Amy Robb.
“It’s just become such a mad house,” Doten added to NBC5. “Especially around the Indigenous People’s Day holiday weekend. It just gets crazy. We’ve counted over 100 cars at any given time parked alongside the road. It just creates a major traffic jam.”
The major pile-up of cars on local roads is such a frustration and safety concern that Pomfret and Woodstock residents passed a measure to close the major roads to non-residents around Sleepy Hollow Farm from Sept. 23 through October 15 this year.
Popular New England photographer and influencer Kiel James Patrick, known as @kjp on social media, has shared numerous, gorgeous photos of New England during the fall season. In one of this most popular photo scenes—of Sleepy Hollow Farm—a local resident shared the locals’ stance on tourist photos in the comments section.
“NOTICE – CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC: Sleepy Hollow Farm is a private home on a backroad and is not a tourist attraction,” the statement reads. “There are no facilities to accommodate parking, trash, restrooms, or other needs of the influx of visitors. The rise of social media platforms have led to an unsustainable surge in visitors to this area, which has led to a spectrum of safety concerns (including obstruction of emergency vehicle access due to road congestion). In the interest of public safety, the towns of Woodstock and Pomfret have voted to close all roads leading to Sleepy Hollow Farm during foliage season to all types of traffic. This will be enforced by local law enforcement and private security.
We wholeheartedly recognize the allure of our region and wish to redirect enthusiasts to the wealth of nearby tourist attractions that remain open to the public. These destinations are thoughtfully equipped with amenities such as ample parking and modern facilities, designed to offer an enjoyable experience for all visitors.”
“These are unpaved narrow rural roads that are not built to accommodate the traffic that they are seeing during the foliage season,” says Benjamin Brickner, a Pomfret select board member. “There’s damage to the roadway that needs to be repaired by the town. There’s damage to properties that are adjacent to the road that need to be addressed.”
Related: Wanna get away? Check out these destinations for an impromptu fall family vacay
The local sheriff’s department and a contracted traffic specialist will enforce the road closures.
“We’ve been asking people to respect property owner’s rights,” said Windsor County Sheriff Ryan Palmer. “We’ve had a lot of stories of folks just being very disrespectful. Walking on property that wasn’t theirs. Sitting on porches, swimming in their ponds, those types of things.”
Why does there seem to be an increase in problematic public behavior these days?
This is just one example of problematic behavior making headlines lately (the “trend” of throwing things at performers on stage during concerts peaked this year), and in the post-Covid world in general. The social isolation most of us experienced during the pandemic was necessary, but it also appears to have had lasting psychological effects in terms of collective human behavior.
Now, that’s not to say that the influence of social media aesthetics wouldn’t have led to the same problems happening in Pomfret, Vermont—pandemic or no pandemic. We can’t know that for sure, of course. But if you feel like there’s been a noticeable decline in how people behave in public, you’re probably right. Research suggests the pandemic did change Americans’ personalities— and not for the better.
Typically, major personality traits remain fairly stable throughout life, with most changes happening in young adulthood or when stressful personal life events occur. It’s rare to see population-wide personality shifts, even after stressful events, but a 2022 study in the journal PLOS One, psychologists found there were personality shifts that occurred due to the pandemic.
The researchers found a decrease in neuroticism, the personality trait associated with stress and negative emotions. In the current study, they were curious if they would find different personality changes in the second and third year of the pandemic.
Study author Angelina Sutin, an assistant professor of behavioral sciences and social medicine at the Florida State University College of Medicine.Sutin hypothesizes that personality traits may have changed as public sentiment about the pandemic shifted. “The first year [of the pandemic] there was this real coming together,” Sutin says. “But in the second year, with all of that support falling away and then the open hostility and social upheaval around restrictions … all the collective goodwill that we had, we lost, and that might have been very significant for personality.”
Among younger people, I have noticed, on average, poorer social skills,” Ryan Sultan, an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, told Vox in August.
He explained that while there aren’t yet extensive studies on people’s behaviors in public spaces, he does think the pandemic’s impact on social gatherings has affected our social skills in terms of self-centered and/or inappropriate behavior. “Having a period of time not in school — which is the primary way that we are socialized — has impacted academic performance, and I’m sure it has impacted social skills.”
Related: These are the best places to see fall foliage across the US
TL;DR: While it’s completely normal to want to capture the essence of an idyllic autumnal scene with our iPhones (and there’s nothing wrong with that desire), people should know not to use private property as personal dressing rooms or makeshift toilets, or to prevent emergency vehicles from being able to reach those in need.
The people of Pomfret and Sleepy Hollow Farm hope their measures will help them get back to the normal weeks of fall they used to have in recent years, according to Doten.
“Probably what I used to consider a normal foliage season,” he said. “We’ll have traffic. We’ll have some people coming through and looking and slowing down. But we won’t have hordes or people hanging on the gate of my neighbor’s property.”