Signs of the season

Signs of the season

Fall color puts on a show for Ohioans

By Adrienne McGee Sterrett

It’s almost leaf-peeping season.

Whether you’re interested in an afternoon escape from the city — without leaving it — or looking for a weekend getaway, Ohio’s fall color offers a perfect excuse to enjoy the beginnings of autumn.

“I think the colors are just absolutely fabulous. It’s just fantastic to see the changes in color,” said Ric Stolly, director of Lima’s Parks, Recreation and Forestry. “And now it’s that change of season, and everything that goes with it — to the crisp, cleaner, cooler air that people enjoy in the fall to the anticipation of winter.”

Stolly oversees about 370 acres of park land in the city system — from parks that are focused on sports activities to those that focus on natural serenity.

“As the leaves change … we see an absolute uptick in people getting out and taking full use of the opportunities that the park system offers in the city of Lima,” he said. “Some people pick their own spot each year to go and watch the leaves change.”

Dry summer conditions had some worried, but rains at the end of August may have salvaged the fall color season. If rain continued into September, color patterns should be about normal. But dry conditions could mean that peak color could come earlier — late September/early October, as opposed to mid-October, said Casey Burdick, fall color expert with the ODNR Division of Forestry.

How’s a peeper to know? Check fallcolor.ohiodnr.gov. There are tools, color reports done weekly, suggested driving tours, a calendar of events and more.

“I’m blown away by the interest, how many people are excited and ask questions about fall color every year,” Burdick said. “I think part of it, this summer it’s been so hot and the weather starts to cool off and make it more approachable to being outside. And Ohio’s a great place to see fall color probably because we have such a nice diversity of tree species that grow here.”

Suggested sites in Lima:

Faurot Park (Collett Street). The rolling hills and large, established trees make this picturesque. There’s plenty of room to find a good spot to relax. “Faurot’s one of the very few parks in our system that does not have a basketball court in it,” Stolly said.

The Rotary Riverwalk. “There’s some beautiful sites along the Riverwalk. Especially when you cross any of the footbridges, you can get a look at both sides of the river,” Stolly said.

Schoonover Lake (Findlay Road).“We have a number of sugar maples that turn that beautiful bright yellow at Schoonover Lake and around the Lake. If you catch it at the right time, the reflection on the lake is just something to see,” Stolly said.

Baxter Park (North of Allentown Road at Woodlawn Avenue). “It’s got some beautiful oak trees,” Stolly said.

Lincoln Park (Elm and Shawnee streets).“We think about older trees and color changes, Lincoln Park is also one that we see a lot of people get to,” Stolly said. The park is well shaded by large trees.

Suggested sites in Ohio:

Mohican State Park/Malabar Farm State Park (Loudonville area). “It’s really a beautiful area, and they tend to have a lot of activities on the weekends for families and nice hiking trails and all kinds of things like that,” Burdick said.

Lake Hope State Park/Zaleski State Forest (west of Athens).“If you want to see some of the features of the Hocking Hills without having so many people around you, it’s a really great location,” Burdick said.

Bryan State Park/Clifton Gorge Nature Preserve (near Yellow Springs).“Those are really neat areas to go hiking. It’s just kind of a different area. There’s a very large gorge there that people can go down and walk through,” Burdick said. “It’s one of the few places in the western half of Ohio that has hemlock. Hemlock is one of the native conifers to Ohio. It just has a really nice dark color, dark green needles on it. It really creates a nice backdrop against the fall color.”

• Color peaks first in the northern parts of the state and then peaks later in the south. Peak in the north could be as early as the second week of October. In the south, it’s usually the first week of November, Burdick said.

• Different trees turn different colors at different times. First, the buckeyes turn yellow/gold. Then, the maples turn red and the honeylocusts turn yellow/gold. Then, the black walnuts turn yellow, dogwoods turn burgundy/purple and catalpas turn bright green. Last, the hickories turn gold, the sassafras trees turn a variety of fall colors and the poplars turn yellow.

• The timing is affected by what’s around the tree. If the tree is in an urban area, it’s likely by itself in more compacted soil, Burdick said. Add in dry conditions, and a city tree will show its colors earlier. A tree in a woods in the country is more protected by its tree neighbors, and the ground under those trees holds more water, so it will show colors later.

• Science plays a big part here. The first hard frost will signal to the tree to cut off its circulation to its leaves. Also, if the tree is stressed by drought, the color could come earlier than usual. “As the days start to get shorter and the temperature cools, that’s the trigger for the tree to start preparing for winter,” Burdick said.

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