Mother Nature is not short changing Maine when it comes to fall colors this year, according to the state’s fall foliage spokesperson, who on Thursday said the autumn leaves will change on schedule despite the summer drought.
Maine’s point person for all things fall foliage was at her desk Thursday morning, ready for the annual leaf-peeping action.
Sept. 1 was Gale Ross’ first day back as the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s official fall foliage spokesperson.
“We won’t issue our first fall colors report until Sept. 14,” Ross said Thursday morning. “But things are looking pretty good, [and] our rangers are telling me the forests are healthy and should have some good colors this season.”
Ross said the drought conditions experienced in recent months in the southern and central areas of Maine should have little if any effect on the fall colors this year.
“Extreme southern New England has experienced a real drought and that may impact that area,” she said. “And you might start seeing colors changing a bit early along the [Maine] coast, but I believe we are still setting ourselves up for a typical season.”
Ross has been in charge of Maine’s official fall foliage website, mainefoliage.com, for the past 11 years. A service of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, the website provides the public with weekly fall foliage reports from observations by Maine Forest Service and state park rangers throughout the state.
The website breaks the state down into seven geographic regions and tracks the foliage color conditions from mid-September through mid-October.
“I’ve already had people noticing some leaves changing over and texting me to alert me,” Ross said. “But generally, we are on track for colors to peak around the state on schedule.”
That schedule, Ross said, runs on a fairly predictable north to south track, with peak colors in northern Maine occurring the last week of September into the first week of October.
Central Maine and the western mountains see peak conditions around Columbus Day weekend with southern Maine peaking in mid- to late October.
What is key now, Ross said, are the upcoming weather conditions.
“We are affected by the weather going forward,” she said. “If we can have those warm days followed by cool nights and no killing frosts, that would be perfect. Any rain we get looking ahead will not affect things.”
The worst-case weather scenario would be a hurricane moving up the coast with winds that would blow the leaves off the trees and shorten the season.
Maine’s weekly fall foliage reports date to 1959, when Forest Commissioner Austin Wilkins first asked Maine Forest Service rangers to report the amount of color change and leaf drop in their regions on a weekly basis from mid-September through mid-October. These reports were radioed to the forestry headquarters in Augusta, then mailed or phoned to Maine news agencies.
Ross hopes people in and out of Maine will use her current, web-based reports to see the best of the state’s colors this year.
“People are really drawn to the changing colors and to the weather that goes along with it,” she said. “They want to experience the air — those crisp fall evenings that we get here in Maine this time of year.”
According to Jennifer Geiger with the Maine Office of Tourism, the Maine has a bit of an edge over the other New England States.
“Maine has 17 million acres of forest land and more varied fall foliage compared to the other states,” Geiger said. “The bright colors of our deciduous trees [are] interspersed with the evergreens of the pines and in the Down East region, the flaming red of Maine’s blueberry barrens.”
Leaf peepers are accounting for a significant uptick in fall tourism in Maine, Geiger said.
Total fall visitation in 2015 was up 12.8 percent over the previous year with 9,782,253 visitors from September through November.
In addition to the website, Ross maintains a social media presence on Facebook and Twitter. She encourages people to contribute their own foliage reports and photos.
“We want people to share their experiences,” she said. “We are always on the lookout for great photos so people who are not in Maine can take a sort of virtual, online fall foliage tour.”