Warm September delays fall foliage color changes
An unseasonably warm September, the fourth hottest on record, has delayed peak fall colors by a week or so. But tourist-driven businesses aren’t griping about the delay.
Mike Norton of Traverse City Tourism says many business owners he knows were happy to finally be getting the weather they expected back in June. Two weeks ago, there were still many sailboats on the bay and people still swimming.
The extended warm weather also attracted more fall golfers to the Boyne Resorts’ courses in Boyne Falls and Harbor Springs, said Erin Ernst, Boyne’s communications director. Business at the Inn at Bay Harbor golf resort, another Boyne property, also has been strong, she said.
This week’s rain and dropping temperatures are expected to produce the cold snap needed to trigger the color that will bring on the annual horde of leaf peepers to tourist destinations across the state.
Bert Cregg, Michigan State University associate professor of horticulture and forestry, said the ample rain across much of the state this summer has lowered the stress level on trees, enabling them to keep their leaves longer. Combine this with the clear days and cooler evenings over the past two week and it is the perfect recipe for fall colors, he said.
“We really had a nice growing season for the trees this year,” Cregg said. “I expect a really nice fall color season across the state.”
The wait will be worth it, said Norton, who monitors the Traverse City region’s fall colors for the state.
“I expect this year’s color show to be better than in recent years,” he said. “The leaves will be limber and moist. In past years, a hot, dry August led to dry leaves that aren’t as colorful.”
The favorable weather this year should promote good yellows in aspen and cottonwood trees, plus bring out vivid reds in maple, sumac and Northern red oak trees, according to National Weather Service reports.
“The cooler nights cue the trees to reallocate resources and the chlorophyll in the leaves starts to break down,” Cregg said. “This diminishes the green color in the leaves, while other pigments like reds, yellows and purples start to emerge.”
And that’s good news for the state’s tourism industry. Fall color tours generate approximately $264 million in tourism dollars for Michigan, said Michelle Grinnell, public relations manager for travel with the Michigan Economic Development Corp.
Grinnell hopes people who enjoy the fall colors will simply adjust their weekend travel plans to accommodate the delay in color season. But if they can’t, Grinnell said there are still plenty of hiking and biking trails, cider mills, beer and wine tours, canoe trips and other fall activities throughout the state that also are popular this time of year.
Ernst said fall foliage buffs tend to watch color maps and book visits to Boyne properties the week they plan to travel. The delay in the leaves changing is not bad, especially if it is going to be a good color season, she said.
Ernst recommends a zipline tour through the tree canopies as an alternative way to view the colors. The tours start at the top of the properties, with the ziplines snaking through the woods and valleys at speeds up to 25 mph. More relaxing chairlift rides also are popular to view the panoramic fall colors.
Saturday’s fall color tour aboard one of the Steam Railroading Institute’s vintage trains from Cadillac to Boyne Falls is already sold out. Some 600 people will take the three-hour roundtrip track, which includes a stop in Boyne Falls to sightsee. Tickets sales had ended for a shorter color tour train ride leaving from Boyne Falls later Saturday, according to Steam Railroading Institute’s website. Seats are still available for the Oct. 10 train tour from Petoskey to Fife Lake. The last trip of the season on Oct. 17 from Mount Pleasant to Cadillac is sold out.
“Riding in one of the vintage coaches is really a unique experience,” said associate director Kim Springsdorf. “We only come up there in the fall when people can experience the beautiful countryside. Hopefully we’ll have some colors.”
Folks do not need to drive far to enjoy the fall colors, said Dan Stencil, executive officer of the Oakland County Parks and Recreation Commission. In Metro Detroit, they usually do not peak until the third or fourth week of October, he said, noting Independence Oaks in Clarkston provides some of the best views in the area.
“Our park system has 68 miles of hiking trails through forested areas, wetlands and lakes,” Stencil said, all within a short road trip from home. “Be patient, the fall colors are spectacular right here.”
Other nearby fall color attractions include tours on the Southern Michigan Railroad, departing from downtown Tecumseh and running along the basin of the River Raisin. The two-hour rides, including a stop at a popular cider mill, are held on weekends during October.
The Adventure Park at Frankenmuth covers five wooded acres and features platforms in the trees. They are connected by cable, wood, rope and zip lines to form bridges, or “aerial trails” through the canopy, which will soon be peaking with fall color.
Joe St. Henry is a Metro Detroit freelance writer.
People interested in the latest updates on fall colors and related special events across the state should visit www. www.michigan.org/fall-color-tours.