Mother Nature is showing who’s boss this year. One of the warmest Septembers on record has delayed New England’s spectacular riot of fall colors — although the show must go on. And by most accounts, it will be quite the performance.
“I believe the delay in the foliage is due to the very warm temperatures in the Northeast during the first two weeks of September,” says Marek D. Rzonca, founder of The Foliage Network, a foliage tracking site. “The season is going to be a bit tricky due to the late start. I would expect the higher elevations of New England to hit peak around the second full week of October. The lower elevations will hit peak a week to a week and a half later.”
And the show will be pretty good. “Most locations did enjoy a normal amount of precipitation. That helps to keep the trees healthy, and healthy trees give great fall color. So, yes, I would expect a great show this fall.” You can visit www.foliagenetwork.com for twice-weekly reports.
“We’ve had a lot of people stop by our North Woodstock Visitors Center asking where the pretty leaves are,” says Meg Cowan, spokeswoman for New Hampshire’s White Mountains Attractions Association. The region explodes into a fantasy of color each fall, and the Kancamagus Highway here is one of the most celebrated, colorful drives in New England for leaf peeping. Zip line tours are also popular. As of the last weekend in September, the state’s tourism site was reporting only 20 percent foliage for the Kancamagus Highway. For up-to-date reports, go to www.visitwhitemountains.com.
And autumn is big business in Vermont, of course. Nearly 3.5 million visitors travel to the Green Mountain State to leaf peep annually, spending $460 million, according to the state’s tourism department.
Michael Snyder, Vermont’s Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation commissioner, is the state’s official foliage forecaster. “Vermont had a wet spring and generally favorable growing conditions throughout summer, with only minor to moderate drought conditions in some forest stands, particularly in southern Vermont,” says Snyder, adding that tree health and forest conditions have been pretty favorable statewide too. “This bodes well, with all factors in place, for another great Vermont foliage season.”
By late September, Vermont was at about 20 percent full foliage color, says Snyder. “We expect it will pop and move more quickly toward peak viewing in the coming weeks with a return to more seasonal temperatures. Early to mid-October is looking like the best bet for excellent foliage viewing throughout Vermont.” Historically, best viewing has been between mid- to late-September and mid-October, he says. You can visit www.VermontVacation.com for weekly foliage reports and a foliage tracker.
The late foliage might actually be welcome news for some visitors to New England, including guests at the Historic Inns of Rockland, on the coast of Maine. “Since most of the lodging rates for Historic Inns of Rockland change from peak to value season mid-month or so, this means a later fall foliage season this year will also deliver a value season to leaf peepers in Rockland,” says Frank Isganitis, co-owner of the LimeRock Inn.
Other spots in Maine are also seeing a delay in color. “Here in western Maine, the foliage is late,” says Wendy Gray, spokeswoman for the Bethel Inn in Bethel, noting that the last weekend of September, foliage was only at 10 percent. “I usually gauge by the ‘swamp maple’ method,” says the longtime Mainer. “These are the red maples that are the first to turn. They are prevalent in the lowlands. Two weeks after the swamp maples peak is the height of the foliage. My prediction is around Columbus Day in western Maine. I have been using this prognosticator for 40 years.”
Still, not every state is late. “This year, many New England states have been experiencing abnormally dry or normal weather conditions, therefore the warm temperatures will keep the trees green for a longer period of time,” says Christopher Martin, director of forestry for the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. “However, Connecticut has been experiencing a moderate drought, which is causing the state’s leaves to turn earlier. This pushes Connecticut slightly ahead of schedule, and we’re still anticipating a prolonged colorful display of fall foliage.”Laurie Wilson can be reached at email@example.com.