Experts: Late foliage may make for extended season

  • Trees along the Ellis River in Jackson are starting to burst into fall colors on Tuesday. Rachel Sharples / Conway Daily Sun

  • A photographer practices his craft by taking photos of the early foliage by the dam at Crawford Notch State Park's Willey House Historical Site Wednesday afternoon. Foliage is late this year but it is beginning to pop. Tom Eastman—Conway Daily Sun

  • Cars zip along Route 16 in the White Mountain National Forest past the Mt. Washington Auto Road, as seen from the Great Glen Trails building on Tuesday. Rachel Sharples—Conway Daily Sun

The Conway Daily Sun
Published: 10/13/2021 6:10:54 PM

 Wherever you go in the Mount Washington Valley this year, everyone seems to be talking about the lateness of the annual explosion of fall color.

In the lower elevations of Madison, Eaton, Tamworth, Conway, Bartlett and Jackson, there are still a lot of green trees — but that will soon change.

According to the state foliage tracker (visitnh.gov/fall), Crawford Notch and Pinkham Notch were both at a moderate peak level heading into the holiday weekend — a fact that was confirmed by a drive through the notches Wednesday, where the foliage-viewing crowd could be seen taking photos at favorite locations like the Willey Slide Historical Site in Crawford Notch.

There, the colors were good but not yet peak, with yellows, oranges and reds mixed with a still substantial quotient of greens.

The good news? It might make for an extended season lasting into the end of the month.

“It’s going to be a good foliage season in the White Mountains and southern New Hampshire where we are as well but it will be spread out — I’m calling it a ‘Quilty As Charged’ foliage season: There will be pockets of foliage, kind of like a patchwork quilt,” said Jack Burnett, managing editor of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, founded in 1792 and published by Yankee Magazine of Dublin.

“We are kind of easing into it because we’ve had warm temperatures: we need cold temperatures to kick in to get things going. The forecast calls for it to get cold around Oct. 20 or 21; with the cold weather that will seal the deal (for foliage),” said Burnett.

He and natural resources field specialist Wendy Scribner of the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension of Conway explained that in addition to the relatively warm early fall, the dry June was followed by a record-setting wet July — and those factors also have played a role in the foliage schedule.

“Trust me,” said Burnett, “the trees in the White Mountains did not go into a panic, because they have seen wet summers before. But some will have more wet feet now, and that affects the tree’s metabolism.”

According to the Mount Washington Observatory’s Brian Fitzgerald, while June saw just .64 inches of rain in North Conway (3.89 inches below normal), 7.76 inches fell in July, which was 3.26 inches above normal. August’s total of 4.01 inches was close to normal, and September saw 4.34 inches, 0.67 inches above normal, and after drought conditions were found in the first half of the year, drought conditions have now ended in the county with several months of near normal rainfall.

Of course, Scribner said, one big windstorm and/or rainstorm could knock all those leaves off the trees to change the fall foliage outlook — but so far, so good.

Asked about the impact on foliage of the gypsy moth caterpillar infestation that wreaked havoc on deciduous trees last spring, they both said the trees for the most part handled it well and regenerated leaves — but there was an impact, with an estimated 50,000 acres affected in New Hampshire this year.

“They had considerable effect — which is why I am predicting the foliage will be spotty,” said Burnett, getting back to his “patchwork quilt” theme.

“They ate a lot of leaves — they love oak trees, it’s like ice cream sandwiches to them, but they will eat everything, including evergreens. So, their eating the leaves allowed more sunlight into the forest, and some trees will also be suffering because it takes more energy to regrow their leaves,” Burnett said.

“Oak leaves are usually the yellow leaves, so there might be a diminution of those colors,” he added.

Scribner, who holds a degree in forest management, was less certain of the impact of the gypsy moths on the foliage.

“It was the first year that the trees got hit (in this cycle), and it happened early enough in the summer that they were able to grow out new leaves.

“But if we get another hard hit next year, we could see trees get stressed and drop their leaves early or dying,” said Scribner.

She said the onset of the foliage does seem tardy.

“This season seems to be warmer than typical falls, and I think you get those brilliant colors from really cool and crisp nights and warm days. We haven’t had a frost, so that may be a factor,” said Scribner.

Those in the tourism industry are hoping for an extended season.

“I agree that the foliage seems to be late this year — but I think that’s great because it will extend the season,” said Janice Crawford, executive director of the MWV Chamber of Commerce.

“There will be plenty of color and it has started up north, which people can check out. Most people don’t just stay in Tamworth or the Conways their whole visit; they take the 100-Mile Loop (west across the Kancamagus Highway (U.S. Route 112) over to Lincoln and then north through Franconia Notch on Interstate 93 and back around on Routes 3 and Route 302 to North Conway).”

Her comments were echoed by Charyl Reardon, executive director of the White Mountains Attractions Association based in North Woodstock at the western end of the Kanc.

“It’s true that it’s a little late this year (the foliage), but it is turning in the notches, and we’re expecting it to be a strong season, which is what the state is predicting as well,” said Reardon on Tuesday.

“People have been flocking to our office, asking about scenic drives and where they can go and have a scenic roadside picnic,” said Reardon, who worked at her organization’s front desk last weekend, which gave her an upfront grasp of what the traveling foliage public is seeking.

Conway Scenic Railroad has Mountaineer excursions to Crawford Notch and Valley Train rides to Conway and Bartlett. Many opt to view the foliage by traveling up the 7.6-mile long Mt. Washington Auto Road. They can also ride up to the summit on the Cog Railway, accessible from the Crawford Notch side of Mount Washington. Others may choose to go for a mountain bike ride at Great Glen Trails or Cranmore Mountain Resort’s Mountain Adventure Park.

Add a kayak or canoe outing, and it’s plain to see that the extended warm temperatures are enhancing people’s trips to the mountains and rivers this season.

So, take to the hiking trails and scenic driving routes for the annual fall foliage extravaganza — which appears to be a tad late, but better late than never, foliage lovers say.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org. 


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