As autumn takes shape, leaf peepers may experience a colorful showcase by Mother Nature, despite the region's dry weather conditions.
"With virtually all of north Georgia now showing as 'Abnormally Dry' or 'Moderate Drought' on the drought monitor, we feared that we'd see early browning, but that isn't necessarily the case,” said Wendy Burnett, director of public relations for the Georgia Forestry Commission. "Last fall, the red oaks browned up early, providing little in color change. The dogwoods were also showing stress resulting in a dusty, grayish appearance. While there is some evidence of this again this year, it seems to be much less.
"Lack of rain in the forecast is concerning and could place additional stress on the trees before leaves are ready to turn. ... While we do expect some drought impact to reduce some of the fall color, the fact that maples, birch and poplar trees are already starting to turn could be an indicator for some excellent color this fall. Regardless of which way the lack of rainfall takes us, there are no bad years to experience fall in Georgia, some years are just better than others."
Like past years, Georgia State Parks and the Georgia Forestry Commission are joining forces to help sightseers pinpoint the best locations for fall color. Initially launched in 2004, Georgia State Parks’ Leaf Watch currently is accessible at https://gastateparks.org/LeafWatch through late November.
"We got so many questions from our visitors on when to plan their fall vacation that we thought it would be easier to create an online planner,” said Kim Hatcher, public affairs coordinator for Georgia's Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites Division. “That allows them to share photos with other visitors, and park rangers to share photos of what the fall color looks right now. So we've been using Leaf Watch for many years.
"I love how it's changed with the growth of Instagram. It's easy for people to search #GaLeafWatch and find other people's photos. I think it gives visitors ideas of new parks to explore perhaps that they've never thought of before. And, because you never know what Mother Nature is really going to do as far as peak color, it helps people determine whether they need to hurry and get away for the weekend or if they have a little more time."
Along with safe hiking tips, Leaf Watch contains various features, including campsites, events and the state's Top 10 and Hidden Gems sites for fall color. Among the venues earning a "hidden gems" distinction is Red Top Mountain State Park in Acworth.
"People often think of Red Top Mountain as being a lake park," Hatcher said. "But they really have a lot of hardwoods there and beautiful hiking trails, plus [it is] easy to access right off 75. So we thought a lot of people would enjoy visiting Red Top."
Leaf Watch also provides a link to Georgia Forestry Commission’s Fall Leaf Watch, www.gatrees.org/resources/education/fall-leaf-report/index.cfm.
"We have foresters throughout north Georgia who provide weekly updates on which species are really turning that particular week, and they even suggest drives to see the most of that particular species so that you can get the full impact," Burnett said. "They also provide some beautiful photos for those who might not be able to make the trip that particular week. And, as always, we value your feedback, so if there is something else you'd like us to cover in the updates, be sure to leave a comment on the blog or on our social media channels to let us know."
While weather conditions fluctuate from year to year, Burnett shared the key ingredients needed for a vibrant leaf season remain unchanged.
"Our formula for an optimal fall color show involves good, available moisture moving into fall season to help ensure trees are not drought stressed and to prevent early brown up and leaf drop," she said. "As the season approaches and we move into fall, we need bright, sunny days with cooler days and nights to allow the natural process to slow and stop the production of chlorophyll and allow the chemical changes to occur to unmask and provide for the brilliant colors we hope to see.
"Dry conditions can result in leaves browning up before the processes start. Extended warm weather can also allow the production of chlorophyll later in the year, resulting in colors appearing later or at lesser amounts."