Leafing through autumn Foliage: Maryland and its neighboring states are on the verge of fabulous fall, with all its color and festivals.


September 10, 1998|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,SUN STAFF

The hot, humid days of summer are behind us. The allergy-promoting days of spring are a few seasons ahead. Winter, with its constant threat of the dreaded white stuff and long lines at the grocery store, is a frosty hint on the horizon.

What's not to like about fall? It's colorful and cool. To get the most out of the season, many people like getting out to view the colorful fall foliage.

"Crisp, sunny days. Cool but not freezing nights mean the best color," says Donna Baker, a forester for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Dorie Coleman works in the communications office for the state's Department of Natural Resources and is the person Marylanders depend on for fall foliage information.

She is instrumental in gathering the information for the fall foliage and festival telephone hot line: 800-LEAVES1, which operates in conjunction with the state's tourism department.

"The number is operational the middle of September," Coleman says. "It is updated each week. We give people some idea of where the best locations in the state are to see the changing foliage, to see what is most impressive any given week."

The number also lists some of the festivals and events that are taking place, Coleman says. "This is for people who want to tie into a trip to, say, Central Maryland or a trip to Western Maryland," she says.

Of course, optimum viewing of fall foliage depends on unpredictable Mother Nature, but there are some general guidelines.

"It all kind of depends on what kind of fall it turns out to be," she says.

Any green oasis, from Oregon Ridge in Baltimore County to the sprawling Patapsco State Park and Gunpowder State Park, will offer delightful fall-foliage viewing in the Baltimore area.

"It's going to be changing first in the western part of the state, of course," Coleman says. Toward the end of fall, in early November, Southern Maryland and then the Eastern Shore are the places to head, she says.

"Generally, at the end of September, I direct people to Garrett State Forest in Garrett County. But it's the beginning of October when you start to see real change in Garrett County," Coleman says.

Toward the end of last year's fall, in early November, Coleman advised people to check out Janes Island State Park near

Crisfield or St. Mary's River State Park in St. Mary's County.

The weather this fall should not hold many surprises, says Art Degaetano, research climatologist with the Northeast Regional Climate Center in upstate New York.

Neither El Nino nor La Nina should be a factor in the weather, he says.

"There will be normal conditions. No temperatures significantly above or below, or drier or wetter than normal," he says.

Our neighboring states also have fall-foliage hot lines. In Pennsylvania, it is 888-GOFOREST.

"We usually peak the last week of September through the second week of October," says Charlie Dach of the Allegheny National Forest Vacation Bureau. "Although, this year, it might be a little later."

The forest, he says, is a popular tourist attraction this time of year.

"It is very spectacular," he says. "Very rustic. There are no Burger Kings. No McDonald's. And we have an old steam engine where people can take rides."

In Virginia, the numbers to call for a foliage update are 800-434-LEAF or 828-298-0398.

"Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway are the most popular," says Sue Bland, spokeswoman for the Virginia Tourism Corp. Bland estimates that peak foliage-viewing will be the third week of November. "Or on the edge of that time. It's hard to predict," Bland says.

In West Virginia, the fall foliage hot line is 800-CALLWVA.

If you're curious about why and how leaves change color, it's a complex process, says Baker, the forester in Maryland.

"Leaves are green because, during the growing season, they produce a group of pigments called chlorophylls," she explains. "They are in abundance during the growing season and mask all the other colors in the leaf."

During the autumn season, the chlorophylls start being replenished at a slower rate. Two other pigments, carotenoids (which are yellow, brown and orange hues and always present in the leaf) and anthocyanins (which are red and purple and present in the sap), begin to dominate in late summer.

"The type of tree it is, the brightness of the sun determines the color," Baker says.

A way to celebrate the turning of the trees is attending Maryland's fall festivals. Here's a sampling:

Honey Harvest Festival will be held on Sunday at the Hashawha Environmental Center in Westminster. There will be demonstrations on honey extraction, open hives, a beekeeping rodeo, live music and hayrides. Call 410-848-9040.

Union Bridge's Fall Festival will be held Sept. 19 in Carroll County. There will be tours of the Lehigh Portland Cement Plant, a bike tour and volksmarch, firetruck rides and music. Call 410-775-7400.

Westminster Fall Fest will be held in downtown Westminster Sept. 23-27. There will be a parade, jazz music and vendors. Call 410-848-9161.

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