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Fall foliage will once again paint the New England region in red, yellow, and orange, but this year’s drought could mean a less than stellar season in some areas, experts say.
“We will still have brilliant colors in New England because of the fact that we have so many different kinds of trees and they’re growing on kind of ridges, and kind of slopes and wetlands,” Richard Primack, a professor of plant ecology at Boston University, told the Associated Press. “You know we will have good color but the color will probably be more spotty than usual.”
Ahead, experts from each New England state share their foliage expectations for 2021 and the best leaf peeping destinations.
The drought will impact the foliage season in Massachusetts this year, said Nicole Keleher, forest health director for the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).
“Any time you have these really stressful events, things like droughts or insect outbreaks or fungal pathogens, it makes the leaves not as healthy as they should be,” Keleher said. “They’re still going to change colors. They’re still going to drop their leaves. It just may not be as vibrant as we love to see here in New England. Sometimes the colors can be a little bit off in severe drought.”
During an optimal foliage year, the colors of the trees are stacked in the forest, which creates a beautiful mix, she said. But during stressful years like this one, the colors don’t overlap as much because the trees are not holding onto their leaves as long, or some species are turning later.
“You’ll still see nice colors out there,” she said. “Sometimes they’re just not all present, you don’t get that perfect time where you get everything all at once.”
The second to third week of October is usually a great time for viewing peak foliage, Keleher said.
Folks should head to the Quabbin Reservoir in Belchertown to see the foliage, she said, or the Blue Hills Reservation in Milton, Quincy, Braintree, Canton, Randolph, and Dedham, which has 125 miles of hikes for all skill levels.
“There are drives up, and it’s really accessible for individuals that want a really good view across the landscape,” she said. “For people who are more adventurous, you can do full hikes from the base.”
You can track the foliage and find fall activities at visitma.com.
New Hampshire will have a good foliage season, said Steven Roberge, extension forestry specialist with UNH cooperative extension, though the drought did stress some trees.
“In Southern New Hampshire and in Boston and the Massachusetts area, there has been a pretty severe drought that we’ve been experiencing this summer. And that is, no doubt, a stress to our trees. In some cases there’s a reduction of growth in some of our trees.”
But for the most part, New Hampshire’s trees are in good shape, he said.
“We have a very healthy canopy that’s out there right now. That just really sets the stage for good foliage when all things cooperate during the season,” he said.
The season will begin in the north and head south, he said, and visitors can enjoy peak season at the end of September and beginning of October.
“The White Mountains is obviously the go-to place,” he said.
The White Mountains was named the best destination in America to see fall foliage by USA Today readers.
The Kancamagus Scenic Byway is a 34.5-mile scenic drive along New Hampshire’s Route 112 that’s excellent for foliage viewing with “beautiful vistas” and changes in elevation that showcase different forest types, he said.
Roberge also recommended the Monadnock Region in southern New Hampshire, which he said has a good amount of oak trees that could turn a nice purplish color later in the season, with the right combination of bright days and cold October nights.
You can follow the foliage reports and plan your fall adventures at visitnh.gov.
It will be another beautiful foliage season in Vermont, according to Michael Snyder, Vermont state forester and commissioner of the Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation.
“It’s special here,” he said. “Nobody has more maples than we do. They’re the real show stealers and we’ve got them in abundance. They’re in good shape.”
Vermont has faced moderate drought conditions throughout the state, he said.
“Large swaths of Vermont forest lands have had a good summer of growth with reasonable moisture and otherwise good growing conditions,” he said. “Things are shaping up quite nicely for another great season.”
Bright sunny days and crisp cold nights are what Vermont needs now for “that world-class color development,” he said.
Visitors will find the best color in the northern counties in September, he said, and in the southern counties as the season progresses.
Snyder recommended taking a scenic drive in Vermont.
It’s also well worth exploring Vermont’s state parks during the fall season, he said, such as Brighton State Park in Island Pond, Maidstone State Park in Guildhall, Molly Stark State Park in Wilmington, and Green River Reservoir State Park in Hyde Park. Snyder said hiking, biking, and renting a boat are all excellent ways to enjoy the fall colors in the parks.
Follow the foliage and discover things to do at vermontvacation.com.
Maine will showcase its usual display of colors this foliage season, said Gale Ross, fall foliage spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry in Maine.
The western mountains of Maine and northern Maine have been dry but not in drought conditions, she said.
“Our forests are very healthy and resilient. I think we’re going to see a typical season, as we usually see in the state of Maine,” Ross said. “I know there might be a little bit of color developing a bit early this year in some areas due to our very dry summer.”
The color will progress as it typically does from north to south between late September and mid October, she said. Northern Maine should reach peak color the last week of September into the first week of October, while the central and western mountains of Maine should peak the second and third week of October, and the coastal and southern regions of Maine in mid October, she said.
“It really is all about the weather going forward,” she said. “We need to have our warm days, followed by our long, cooler nights to bring about the best coloration of the leaves.”
Ross recommended visitors drive the Fish River Scenic Byway in Aroostook County, a scenic 38-mile drive on Route 11.
“They’ll see Eagle Lake, and there are many spots in that area that offer really nice views of Mount Katahdin, which is in Baxter State Park,” she said.
Camden Hills State Park in Camden is “where the mountains truly do meet the sea, which is a rarity in New England,” Ross said. Visitors also can hike up Mt. Battie for “breathtaking views” of the harbor, foliage, and sea, she said.
You can track the foliage and find fall activities at mainefoliage.com.
This season’s foliage could be earlier and shorter due to the drought, according to Lou Allard, urban and community forestry program coordinator with Rhode Island’s Department of Environmental Management.
“Obviously the drought was not optimal, so that could bring us an earlier leaf color change, potentially with it going straight to brown,” he said.
However, red leaves can also shine brighter in drought years, he noted.
“With the sun and drought in the summer, some of the red pigment could potentially get stronger,” he said, resulting in “a nice burst of red color.”
Visitors can usually find peak foliage across the state during the three-day holiday weekend, he said.
In Providence, Neutaconkanut Hill Conservancy has trails with a good mix of trees great for exploring in the fall, he said, as well as “a nice view of the city.”
East Bay Bike Path, which runs 14.5 miles from Providence to Bristol, is a great way to view the foliage, he said.
“That covers a nice range of areas,” he said. “You’ve got some marshes, you’ve got some bridges.”
Long Pond Woods Wildlife Refuge in Hopkinton also has excellent trails and a great overlook where you can view the foliage against the water, he said.
“It may be muted, it may be shorter, but it’s always nice to get out and enjoy some nature, regardless,” he said.
You can track the fall foliage and find fall activities at visitri.com.
Foliage season will start a little early and be extended this year, according to Chris Martin, forestry director at the Connecticut Bureau of Natural Resources.
“This year is kind of unusual,” he said. “We just came off of some extraordinary drought. I don’t think it’s going to be popping all at once in your face. It’s going to be more gradual this year.”
During drought years like this one, colors tend to come in early, he said, and trees have already started turning color.
“It will be a good year,” he said. “It’s not going to be a spectacular, all-at-once year.”
Peak will take place the second and third week in October for the northeastern hills of Connecticut and then it will work its way south toward late October and then wrap up around the shoreline during early November, Martin said.
Pachaug State Forest in Voluntown is a great place to enjoy the fall foliage, he said, with terrific views and camping nearby.
“Don’t wait until October though, go early, because that area was really impacted by the drought,” he said. “The leaves will be turning earlier there.”
You can track the foliage and find fall activities at ctvisit.com.
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