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Hopes For Vibrant Fall Foliage As Colors Begin To Emerge

Lake Placid fall foliage (file photo)
Pat Bradley/WAMC
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Lake Placid fall foliage (file photo)

There are varying predictions of what to expect as we approach this year’s fall foliage season — a key tourism driver in the Northeast.  WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley checked in with a forester who has been studying Vermont’s trees for decades.
Last week, a University of New Hampshire researcher predicted the weather and lack of stress on the region’s trees this year should produce vibrant fall colors.  At the same time a Cornell University researcher said wet and warm weather will delay and dull fall colors.

Vermont Commissioner of Forest Parks and Recreation Michael Snyder is a forester.  He says the basic factors for good foliage are healthy forests, few pests and suitable weather conditions throughout the growing season.  “We’ve had a good spring and then we’ve had localized pockets of defoliation and drought which is another factor during the summer that when they’re bad enough that they turn leaves brown or leaves fall off well then clearly those areas are going to have less chance for color. And we have some of that. It’s always in the mix and some of those are elevated this year. But overall statewide it looks pretty good and as long as we get cooperative September weather, that is bright days cool nights with a little bit of gentle rain here and there, then that’s what leads to truly  the vibrant color development.”

Right now many people are seeing brown and yellow leaves as fall approaches.  But Snyder says the earliest leaves are not a predictor of later colors.  “I have a theory that I’m developing through my own observations. Every year in the beginning of fall foliage season like early September when you have lingering summer conditions this first wave is kind of dull. Every year people say Oh it’s muted this year and I say just wait. This is the first wave.  Vibrancy to me is a late season development. First you’ve got to get rid of the first wave of leaves that are early to go and a little bit dusky and then you need some physiological activity in the leaves as the final act of preparing for winter is where you get the red colors and to me the true classic vibrancy that everyone really gets excited about.”

Autumn is one of the busiest tourism seasons in Vermont and Northern New York.  The Lake Placid-based Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism reports the six-week fall foliage season in the Adirondacks accounts for 25 to 30 percent of annual tourism revenues.  Spokesperson Carrie Gentile says color is emerging and she expects greater vibrancy over the next few weeks.  “Here in Lake Placid especially in the last couple of days we are seeing some significant changes right now. What’s unique about the Adirondacks is for the next 6 weeks you’re going to probably find an area that’ll be peaking you know because there’s so many different elevations and you know you’re talking about the Adirondacks that are closer to Lake Champlain they’ll be peaking more like mid-October. Where here up in Lake Placid the High Peaks we tend to peak the end of September beginning of October.  So I think that’s one of our assets is that you could see peak color anytime in the next 5 to 6 weeks.”

According to the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing’s Benchmark Report, tourism spending peaks in July and August with October’s fall foliage a strong third.

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