Friday, September 25, 2009

Fall Color Update for the Blue Ridge

The same fall color indicator tree photographed on September 16 showing the coming of fall color on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Fall color is just starting to show its face in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. But do not get to excited. It is common for the color to start in some specimen trees and then slow to almost a halt before completing its final run to full color. Many factors affect the timing and brilliance of falls colors. They include rainfall, temperatures, daylight, storm damage from the preceding year, and a variety of conditions that place stress on trees. The first heavy frost seems to be an indicator that the color change my be imminent.

The number one question to Park Rangers each year from "leaf peepers" planning to visit the southern Appalachians to view the colors is, "When will the fall colors peak." That is always a difficult question to answer.

One Chief Ranger years ago would get calls at his office from a multitude of media outlets asking for the time of the fall color peak. He would pick a day and time such as Wednesday October 22 at 2:15 pm. It was amazing how many people would take this seriously and plan their entire fall vacation around this specific point in time. When they arrived they were generally disappointed that not every leaf on every tree was vibrant with color.

Another Park Ranger I worked with that had been on the Blue Ridge Parkway since the 1940s used a different formula. He told me to look at the calendar and pick the weekend nearest to the 15th of October. That would be the weekend nearest the peak of color. I found this to be somewhat accurate.

The truth is that there is no time when the entire Blue Ridge Mountains are in peak fall color. The level of color displayed by nature will vary based on elevation, aspect of the slope (what direction it faces), and the dominant species of tree you are viewing. The result is that at anyone time in October there will be sections of the mountains in beautiful radiant color and others that are not quite yet there or past their peak and dropping their leaves.

The best advise is to plan on traveling through larger sections of Shenandoah National Park, The Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Great Smokey Mountains National Park to have the best opportunity to find that one special display of color that makes your heart sing and will be saved on the camera of your mind for a life time.
My fall color observation assistant, Baird the golden retriever enjoying the Whetstone Ridge Trail in Virgina.

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