Ignore the Experts, Fall Color Will Be Great!

First Trax

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The calendar may still say that it is late Summer, but the temperatures here in the mountains reflect something much more like a mid Autumn day with cool crisp temps across the region. Overnight lows Saturday night (Sept 15th) into this morning were in the upper 30s across the North Carolina mountains all the way into Pocahontas Mountain (home to Snowshoe Resort).

That is certain to jump start the fall color changing at the highest elevations.


I have already begun to receive inquiries pertaining to whether of not the Autumn season will be a spectacular one, or dry and yucky looking. Some "anti-tourism" characters who call themselves biologists have cast potentially gloomy predictions for a less-than-brilliant leaf season. Let me give you my honest, and somewhat educated take on these kinds of prognostications – baloney!

I’ve been living in these mountains plenty long enough to offer a much more accurate statement than some snot-nosed biologist that can’t see the forest for the multi-colored trees. (That was pretty good wasn’t if I say so myself!)

Too often biologists speak of the mountains as one broad area and to say that all regions of the mountains ranging from North Georgia all the way to Wisp Resort in Northwestern Maryland have been under extreme drought conditions is totally inaccurate.

Case in point are leaf predictions circulated on news wires orginating from Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina and another from the Asheville area. Both of those areas are located in regions suffering from extreme drought. However, just a bit further north, the higher elevations of Watauga and Avery counties in North Carolina (Boone, Banner Elk and Beech Mountain) have not had it nearly as bad. While suffering from drought, the Summer has not been nearly as dry as in other areas. The same is true within the Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland higher elevations. There are pockets of areas at the higher elevations where things have not been so dry.

With that in mind, I think that we will see a gorgeous mixture of Fall color that will compare very nicely with some of our more gorgeous seasons. Judy Donaghy, executive director of the High Country Host, and Mac Forehand, director of the Boone Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, both say that while some areas may be drier and less spectucular than in an average year, the “mountains” are not one biological region and that splendid color can often be found at varying elevations, regardless of how wet or dry the previous Summer season was.

“I think people tend to think ‘The mountains are the mountains,’ whether it’s Sparta or Murphy,” Forehand said. “But this year in particular, I think that’s very much not true for the leaves.”

Seems that Donaghy and Forehand colaborated to put out a consistent message pertaining to the upcoming fall leaf season adding, "The High Country is not part of the mountain region that is experiencing extreme drought conditions,” Donaghy said in a statement. “We are in a drought situation, but do not have super dry conditions. It will be plenty colorful this fall in the High Country.”

Tourism officials all across the region seem to agree with my take on things and I can say that I have been visiting the mountains for more than 40 years and lived in them for nearly two decades and I have never witnessed a "dull" Autumn. Not once.

“Often times in drier years the leaves are every bit as colorful,” Donaghy said. “Plus, we’ve had our share of afternoon thunderstorms this summer that have provided some areas with more rain than others.”

That is consistent with what we have been writing in response to inquiries. I can tell you that there was only one 2-3 week stretch during the Summer that I worried about watering my grass. Things are pretty lush in the forests surrounding our area and I’m certain the same holds true across the Appalachian and Allegheny Mountains.

Forehand made a pretty telling statement that was recently reported in the local news media saying, “Almost every year I hear all the reasons why it’s going to be bad. Last year was the only time I’ve ever heard a good forecast. People just like bad news better, I guess. The leaf color is always beautiful.”

Ditto…it’s always beautiful. Last Autumn we had one of the longer fall color, leaf seasons that I can remember. We began getting decent color with the early-turning, Sugar Maples in late September and then saw a burst of color in the first week of October. Peak season is typically around October 15-20th, but last fall displayed some nice color write through nearly the end of the month.

In much the same way that we at SkiNC and SkiSoutheast receive questions as to what exact DAY to expect great, natural snowfalls, our local tourism staffers receive questions that are equally as funny.

The biggest question tourism officials face this time of year is “When is the peak week?” Donaghy forecasts the colors to be at their best the third and fourth weeks of October, and Forehand generally says the third week of October is the most common response. However, it’s as variable as another other factor, such as that day’s viewing conditions, the weather and the elevation.

“People want to know the leaf peak, at what hour and what day,” Forehand said. “It lasts a long time and depends on elevation.”

Ummm… WEB CAMS, people! Web Cams! Duh!

In a couple of stories that ran recently in local newspapers, officials mentioned that there were some websites in the area that were helpful in posting leaf updates. I know that weather.com has done a great job the last two years in posting updates for visitors all across the leaf-gawking area. County websites all across the region also do a pretty good job of keeping potential visitors posted and we’ll even be updating websites such as this one, www.HighCountryOutdoors.com , www.AutumnTrips.com and others with some good information. However, the BEST way to KNOW what conditions are like is to view www.HighCountryWebCams.com ! I can not believe that county tourism people are not telling people about that most efficient way to see what’s happening regarding fall color.

We will pan, tilt and zoom some camera locations to optimize the fall color shots so that visitors can see for themselves just what awaits them before they make the trip up. We have received hundreds if not thousands of "thank yous" from people not able to make the trip to the mountains as often as they’d like, but as sweet as it is to SEE some virtual color, there is nothing like the smell and feel of taking a nice drive or walk within the mountains with leaves rustling beneath you and colorful leaves falling around you. There’s nothing that compares to it.

If you can’t make the trip for peak week, don’t fret too much because Donaghy adds, "We have varying elevations in the High Country, so from late September to early November, you’re going to find color along the Blue Ridge Parkway and our other scenic byways.”

So ignore the sourpusses who call themselves botanists…and book your reservations NOW for a great mountain getaway…with plenty of color to enjoy!

Until Next time…

Be sure to visit www.SkiSoutheast.com  for more stories and skiing in the Southeast!

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