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A Fall Color Discussion

Written by Lori Moffet.

In the November issue, writer Melissa Gaskill takes readers to Lost Maples State Natural Area, a state park in Vanderpool that is famous for its beautiful fall foliage. Senior Editor Loir Moffatt visits here with park interpreter Richard Treece and park superintendent Shawn Greene about fall color, how to avoid the crowds (visit during the week if possible), and the capricious weather-whims of Mother Nature.

A variety of trails with different difficulty levels entices hikers, especially in fall when the trees change color. (Photo by Chase A. Fountain/TPWD)Shawn Greene: One thing to remember is that Mother Nature does what she wants to do. Fall color is dependent on several factors, the most important being temperature. Sometimes in October, we’ll have two or three periods when the temperature gets down into the mid-30s. That triggers the trees to create and store sugar to get them through the winter and seed production in the spring. When we have 2-3 days in a row, that triggers the trees to change all at once, and you’ll see brilliant, pretty color.

Richard Treece: But what has happened in the past few years is this: We’ve had no hard freezes; Octobers have been very mild. Thus the park changes in stages. The colors change in different parts of the park, gradually, and it’ll continue for a long period. We’ve had changing color go as late as Thanksgiving

Shawn Greene: The gradual process is kind of nice in that it allows people to come during a wider time frame. It’s not as brilliant as when we have a cold snap, but it lasts longer.  Starting in October, we update our fall-foliage report on our website every week.

Richard Treece: It gets really busy in the fall. For those backpackers who want to come out and stay in the primitive camping area, they need to come in on Friday night. If they wait until Saturday to arrive, they’ll likely get stuck in a long line of cars waiting to get into the park. On Saturdays and Sundays, we often average between 800-1,000 cars a day. And we have only 250 parking spots. So if you’ve made camping reservations, please don’t wait until Saturday to arrive.

Once we start posting pictures, it’s interesting to watch the progression. For example, I’ll take a picture of a tree, and it’s beautiful, and the next week, I might take a photo of the same tree, and it’s a completely different photo. It all can change with one good, high wind.

Shawn Greene: Yes, and if we have a mild October, we may have good color in November. It’s very hard to predict. In addition to temperature, other factors include moisture. Trees can have some of their best color in dry years. But if things are too dry, trees may produce a lot of seed for the next year—to ensure their survival—instead of expending energy to produce sugar and color. Normally, we tell people that the peak of our color happens somewhere before and around Veteran’s Day, November 11.  And then once the maples produce their color, you start seeing the Texas red oaks turning. My best description is that it looks like maroon Christmas ornaments in a green field.

Richard Treece: It’s worth it to take a day off from work!


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