There is a Season Turn Turn Turn October is the coolest month for walking in autumn woods to see the leaves change color

October 17, 1992|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

With fall foliage bursting out all over, people are heading to the woods to soak up the colorful atmosphere. Some of them are also shoveling dirt, lifting logs and carting trash.

Ted Sanderson, a past president of the Mountain Club of Maryland, helps coordinate regular maintenance activities on the Appalachian Trail, one of the state's premier hiking attractions. Mr. Sanderson and a group of volunteers plan to perform a season-end project today, building steps on an eroded trail slope near Boiling Springs, Pa., in the portion of the historic trail that is the responsibility of the 58-year-old Baltimore-based hiking club.

Tomorrow, the club also sponsors what should be a spectacular foliage trek, a strenuous 8-mile climb of Old Rag Mountain in the Shenandoah National Park about two hours south of Baltimore near Sperryville, Va.

And throughout the region, a variety of parks, county and municipal recreation offices and activity clubs are planning hikes, fall foliage walks and other activities to take advantage of one of the nicest times of year outdoors.

"October is a really busy month for us," says Martha Schultz, office supervisor at Cunningham Falls State Park in the Catoctin Mountains near Thurmont. "This is a beautiful time of year to camp. As long as the weather's good we can pretty much count on being full."

Ask the 7-year park employee when the leaves will reach their peak colors and she replies, "Thursday at 4:07 p.m." She's only joking, of course, for nature's paintbrush is not nearly that punctual. But she says this weekend should represent the height of color. Not surprisingly, all but 20 of the park's campsites had been reserved by yesterday morning.

"People want to get their last weekend [of camping] in," says Ms. Schultz. "It's not too cold and bugs are not a problem, and the leaves have a lot to do with it."

On the Eastern Shore, the dogwoods and sassafras have begun to dress for the fall, but the maples, oaks and other big trees have a week or two to go, according to John Ohler, manager of Martinak State Park, near Denton, which is holding its third annual fall festival today.

"We haven't had a good frost, so the colors are hanging back," he notes. Nevertheless, the festival "just gets bigger every year," he says. The event usually draws more than 1,000 visitors.

Of course, it doesn't take an organized activity to get out into nature and enjoy the watercolor spectacle. State parks, for example, offer hiking trails, picnic grounds and other autumnal attractions.

In addition, a variety of county and municipal parks -- including the trail-rich watersheds of the Prettyboy, Liberty and Loch Raven reservoirs and the railroad right-of-way hike/bike trails in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties -- also make for colorful destinations.

Even the greenery in the city's Druid Hill Park and around Lake Montebello's pedestrian/biker lane began this week to take on tints of yellow and orange. (The scientific explanation for the autumn art show, by the way, is that the leaves don't really gain new color, but simply lose their green tint.)

And then there is the Appalachian Trail (AT), whose 2,000-mile Maine-to-Georgia length includes a 40-mile stretch through Maryland.

Cunningham Falls State Park and adjacent federal Catoctin Mountain Park make popular access points to the trail. Also good are Greenbriar State Park, Washington Monument State Park and Gathland State Park, all west of Frederick via U.S. 40, U.S. 40 Alternate and Route 17, respectively (and shown on state highway maps).

"Most of us are desk jockey types, and you don't get a chance to do anything real physical during the week," says Mountain Club of Maryland member John Eckard. Weekdays, he works in the Miller Group ad agency in Baltimore, but on numerous weekends during the year can be found checking up on "his" 5-mile stretch of the AT.

Mr. Eckard is one of the club's trail overseers, specifically responsible for the condition of a segment in Pennsylvania's Cumberland Valley just above the Maryland border.

"You get attached to your section and take a lot of pride in keeping it so that everyone can enjoy it," says Mr. Eckard.

"If you appreciate it, you feel you owe something back. It feels good to tell people that you do it," says his wife, Terry. Both Eckards are past presidents of the mountain club.

Mr. Sanderson, the club's shelter chairman, says volunteer work crews normally go out three or four times in the spring and fall. Maintenance chores include clearing fallen trees, repainting trail markings, creating switchbacks in worn sections of trail, clearing litter and, at times, dealing with vandalism.

"Sometimes you get angry when you find motorbike trails, or need trucks to cart out litter," says Mrs. Eckard.

Here is a sampling of special autumn events this weekend:

* Pumpkin Appreciation Day events are scheduled today and tomorrow from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Rocks State Park in Jarrettsville, at the Rock Ridge Picnic area. (For information, call [410] 557-7994.)

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