Leaves are beginning to show their fall colors in NC's mountains

slyttle@charlotteobserver.comOctober 18, 2013 

  • Latest fall leaf color report

    • Northwest mountains: ASU’s Neufeld says sugar maples are providing vivid yellow-orange colors along King Street and on the Blowing Rock Highway in the Boone area. He also says birches, beeches, tulip poplars, hickories and magnolias are reaching peak colors.

    • Asheville and west: Observers say peak conditions will be reached in the next few days near Cullowhee and Murphy. Mark File of the website Romantic Asheville says the best colors in that area are above 3,500 feet. He suggests driving N.C. 215 and U.S. 276. File also recommended the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which has reopened, as a place to see peak colors this weekend.

    • Foothills: Amanda Lasley of South Mountain State Park in Burke County reports some of the poplars, maples and sweetgums are changing colors. But peak conditions are at least a week away. Wildflowers are still blooming, and they are adding to the color show, she says.

    Mark Popowski of Chimney Rock State Park says the color show in that area is increasing. He suggests checking out “higher and middle elevations and at Rumbling Bald Access. The dogwoods are a vibrant maroon with sourwoods adding splashes of red.” He says there is still a lot of green, so that means peak conditions probably are a week away.

    Colors are about 30 to 40 percent north of Winston-Salem, at places like Pilot Mountain State Park. Peak conditions are seven to 10 days away in that area.

    • Piedmont: Yellows and reds are mixing with green at Morrow Mountain State Park and in the Uwharrie National Forest east of Charlotte, but it will be around or after Nov. 1 before peak conditions are reached. The same is true at places such as Lake Norman, Crowders Mountain and across Iredell and Rowan counties.

    • South Carolina: Colors are about 25 percent in northern Cherokee County and in the foothills north of Greenville and Spartanburg.

    • Elsewhere in the Southeast: Virginia is the place to be this weekend, with peak colors being reported at many places along Interstate 81. Peaks of the Otters, south of Buchanan, and in the area near Wytheville are the top spots. Peak conditions remain at least a week away in eastern Tennessee and northeast Georgia. Steve Lyttle

If you were waiting for the government shutdown to end before heading to the Blue Ridge Parkway to see North Carolina’s annual fall color show, don’t worry.

The leaves were waiting, too, and they’re reaching peak colors now at higher elevations.

Tourist officials in the high country say confusion about what was open or closed during the shutdown kept some tourists from heading to the mountains. But they say the leaf-changing process is behind schedule this year.

“The colors are really good right now,” says Amanda Lugenbell, assistant director of the Blowing Rock Visitors Center.

“The colors are flabbergasting,” adds Sheri Moretz, community relations manager for the Mast General Store chain, which is based near Boone. “And that’s coming from someone who lives here.”

The government shutdown that closed most federal facilities also hit campgrounds, picnic areas and visitors centers along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Privately owned stores and state parks remained open, but officials say potential tourists were confused.

However, the leaves are also taking their time changing colors. Experts disagree on the reason, with Appalachian State University’s Howie Neufeld attributing the late change to recent warm weather. Others cited the lack of rainfall since August.

Either way, the color show is on now.

“The coming weekend should be our peak leaf color times here in the Boone/Blowing Rock and Grandfather Mountain areas,” Neufeld says.

At lower elevations, such as Asheville and Chimney Rock, leaf colors will be vivid this weekend, but the peak is about a week away. That’s about seven to 10 days behind schedule, experts say. And it will be November before peak colors are seen in the Piedmont.

Lugenbell says the Blowing Rock area is “pretty much booked up this weekend.” The annual Woolly Worm Festival is scheduled in nearby Banner Elk, and the Valle Country Fair is on tap in Valle Crucis.

She agrees that there was confusion during the government shutdown.

“We had a lot of questions from people who wanted to know if the gates were open on the (Blue Ridge) parkway,” she says. “But all that is over now.”

Lugenbell says artists at the Parkway Craft Center, which was closed, “are ecstatic that it’s open again.”

Steve Moss, director of Western Carolina University’s Hospitality and Tourism Program, estimated that every day of the shutdown cost North Carolina about $1 million in consumer spending, much of that in tourism. But that appears likely to change, starting this weekend.

“This weekend will be well-visited up here,” Moretz says.

Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle

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