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    ASHEVILLE, NC (WLOS ) -- The leaves are changing, but that’s not the only change this leaf peeping season. The change in leaves brings visitors to the mountains every fall.

According to information from Explore Asheville, visitors seeking fall foliage put as much as $250,000,000 into Asheville’s economy.

“Pretty, pretty, pretty. This is the right way to come,” said Edgar Zanbrano, who was visiting the Blue Ridge Parkway from Florida.

In the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Zanbrano said his family wanted to find a safe way to take a vacation.

“We wanted to do something outdoors, and this is something that is perfect to do,” Zanbrano said.

“Certainly, it’s been a year like no other,” said Marla Tambellini, deputy director and vice president of marketing for Explore Asheville CVB.

She said leaf peeping season is typically a big deal for Asheville’s economy.

“That along with that along with July. Really, those two time periods generate generate the most visitors spending,” Tambellini said.

In a year with a pandemic, it means this year's foliage season will likely bring fewer visitors. Tambellini said there is still some momentum in visitor numbers from the lows earlier in the year.

“Our October is not going to look like last year, but we are seeing that we have been increasing steadily,” Tambellini said.

“Unpredictable will be the word for sure,” said Elana Eirhart, who is store support for Early Girl Eatery.

She said that while there has been some challenges, this has been a good year overall. That’s in part because of outside seating.

“It’s been super helpful for us. I think it’s made our customers really comfortable to provide a comfortable place to eat,” Eirhart said.

Early Girl is going to be expanding into additional space next door to allow more room. It also plans to keep the outdoor seating open even as the cooler weather arrives.

“The city got us all to come together with a co-op of ordering heaters. So, we’ve gotten on that and ordered a couple heaters that are propane, so we’ll just see how that goes,” Eirhart said.

Safety remains a priority for Asheville’s tourism economy. Explore Asheville has moved marketing to remind visitors of mask and social distancing requirements.

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