Friday, September 22, 2000

Fall is bustin' out all over


Tours have been booked for months

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        As fall officially begins at 1:27 p.m. today, leaf lovers can look forward to an explosion of color, thanks to an above normal rainfall this summer, experts say.

        “When it comes to fall foliage, I think we're in for a great, great season,” said Bill Schultz, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' fall color spokesman. “It will be one of the best.”

        Most Tristate residents should notice a significant color change by next week, with area foliage peaking in mid-October.

INFORMATION
   • Ohio: State tourism hot line, (800) BUCKEYE, or check www.dnr.state.oh.us starting Thursday.
    • Kentucky: Department of Travel's Visitor Information Service at (800) 225-8747 Wednesday through Nov. 8, or log onto www.kytourism.com and click on the leaf icon.
   • Indiana: Department of Natural Resources at (317) 233-3046 from 8:15 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday. Leaf hot line information will be included, starting Oct. 1.

        But if you were thinking about booking a fall color tour through a travel agency, it's probably too late.

        “If you want to take a foliage tour, you need to call by May to reserve your space,” said Jennifer Ledonne, spokeswoman for AAA Cincinnati, which offered seven fall color tours this year: to New England; the Smokies; St. Lawrence Seaway; Branson, Mo.; and Washington, D.C. and Williamsburg, Va.; and two to Canada. “And if you're traveling on your own, or going through a travel agent, start in March.”

        Most of Ohio, northeastern Kentucky and central to northern Indiana foliage reaches peak color this year in mid-October, say analysts at AccuWeather in State College, Pa. Southern Indiana and central and southwestern Kentucky will reach peak in late October.

        For those who want a taste of the famed New England fall color, plans should be made quickly. Northern Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire are to hit peak late this month. Also peaking late this month are leaves in the northern Midwest — the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and parts of Wisconsin.

        But even regions slated for early October peak have yet begun to turn. Central Pennsylvania, which with upstate New York and parts of Maryland is scheduled to hit peak in early October, still shows mostly green foliage, with an occasional early tree turning deep russet. The maples that provide orange, yellow and red hues have not yet begun to turn.

        Autumn color is controlled by trees' genetic factors and environmental inputs such as rainfall and sunlight. Though Jack Frost is often given credit for turning the leaves, it's really the shorter days accompanying the first chill — and rainfall levels — that have an impact on the foliage.

        As days get shorter, photosynthesis breaks down, and the green cells in leaves die. But for a short time, cells made of yellow, orange or red pigments survive, creating a vivid palette of colors.

        This year's above-normal rainfall should trigger a brilliant palette of fall colors for the Ohio Valley, Mr. Schultz said.

        Since Jan. 1, rainfall at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport has measured 35.47 inches — 11.43 inches more than last year, and about 4 inches above normal, AccuWeather meteorologist Scott Homan said.

        “We should have some brilliant colors this year because of the good growing season we've had,” said David Koester, county extension agent for horticulture in Campbell County.

        One possible damper on the visual energy is the death of a number of maple trees caused by last year's drought after several drier-than-normal growing seasons, Mr. Koester said. Maples are responsible for the brilliant oranges and reds seen in the fall.

        “But we have had plenty of moisture this year, which should help the maples combat some of that,” he said. “And we're real fortunate in this part of the country. We have a diversity of plants with a broad range of colors.”

        Because the northern and southern species of trees meet in Kentucky, the state boasts “one of the most spectacular displays of (fall) color anywhere,” said Doug McLarin, extension forester for the College of Agriculture at the University of Kentucky.

        In Ohio, popular viewing spots for fall color include the Hocking Hills region 45 miles southeast of Columbus, the Mohican Forest area about 60 miles southwest of Cleveland, and the Shawnee State Forest region west of Portsmouth. All offer great viewing because they feature vast forest areas with hilly terrain and fire towers, leaf experts say.

        Kentucky has its Jenny Riley State Park in Prestonsburg and Natural Bridge State Resort Park in Slade, as well as the entire eastern part of the Appalachian mountains, says a spokesman for the state's Department of Travel.

        The Red River Gorge area in Winchester also is a popular spot, said Cay Tuck, membership chairman for the Miami Group Sierra Club.

        And in Indiana, folks in search of vivid fall colors traditionally visit Nashville, Ind., and the surrounding hills of Brown County.

        It has been “a destination for fall color for about 50 years,” said Mary Fredericksen, communications coordinator for the Brown County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

        “Brown County is fabulous for fall color,” Ms. Tuck said. “But it's hard to even get near, because everyone goes there.”

        She said local Sierra Club members prefer the less-crowded Clifty Falls in Madison, Ind.

        Other favorite viewing spots of the Miami Group Sierra Club: John Bryant State Park in Yellow Springs, Ohio, northeast of Xenia; and Mount Airy Forest and Caldwell Nature Center in Cincinnati.

       



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