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Best fall foliage season in years is possible, says Pennsylvania expert

PennLive.com logo PennLive.com 9/24/2020 By Marcus Schneck, pennlive.com

The man responsible for compiling the weekly fall foliage report for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources believes this autumn could be “the best season” for fall color in many years.

“Although a bit dry in many areas, this season is shaping up to be perhaps the best season I’ve ever had the pleasure to report,” said Ryan Reed, natural resource program specialist with DCNR.

“Leaf fungus is down, days are warm and nights have been cold. Foliage has been changing rapidly, and we could experience an early and vibrant fall foliage season.”

He reported, "Deep-green foliage is the norm for the state, currently, but many areas are showing signs of the season.

"Recent frosts and cool nights are pushing development of color, as species noted to change early are beginning to reveal. Black gums, birches and maples are sprinkling reds and yellows throughout Penn’s Woods.

“Drought conditions throughout a significant portion of the state could shorten what is expected to be a vibrant peak season. Forecasted rain beginning next week could quench commonwealth forests, preserving a long, colorful fall.”

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Here are the reports from all the DCNR regions across the state:

Northwest Region

The district manager in Cornplanter State Forest District (Warren and Erie counties) reports a slight blush of color on some trees, specifically red maples, appearing to be the first to show their fall colors.

Most of the overstory is still a lush green. The warm yellows of goldenrods and sunflowers with the deep purple of wild asters indicate fall is on its way. With warm days and cooler nights, northwestern Pennsylvania seems to be easing into fall.

Northcentral Region

The district manager reports that fall has arrived in Susquehannock State Forest (Potter and McKean counties). Red and sugar maples have started to change in the northern two-thirds of the forest district. Some cherry and birch have slightly yellowed and a few have dropped some leaves due to dry conditions.

With recent frost and several freezing nights, the northern hardwoods peak is expected around the first full week of October followed by oaks later in October.

Bureau of Forestry staff in Moshannon State Forest (Clearfield, Centre and Elk counties) report several recent frosts and a dry summer, conditions that usually contribute to good color. Those conditions, along with relatively low incidence of leaf spot diseases, give an optimistic outlook on fall color.

Individual red and sugar maples are just beginning to change color, with a few black gums turning red as well. The best places for current fall foliage viewing in the district are the Penfield and Quehanna areas, where a scenic drive along the Quehanna Highway will reveal some nice color.

Peak foliage is expected in early October.

Forestry personnel report a drought-stricken Tioga State Forest District (Tioga and Bradford counties) with hints of color change. Red maples are reddening, and sugar maples, striped maples, birch and beech are turning yellow. Changes are not widespread yet. Areas with heavy components of northern hardwoods have some color and the oak forests remain green. The eastern half of the district is mainly northern hardwoods and shows the most color, currently. The best place to see color is around the town of Wellsboro. Peak is expected in mid-October.

Loyalsock State Forest staff report that dry weather has initiated early fall color, but progress has slowed. Recent frosts could speed up the process. Red, yellow and orange maple and birch leaves have been among the first to turn along with many understory plants. Drier sites, particularly Sharp Top Vista, are progressing well.

Foresters in Clinton County (Sproul State Forest) have noted some early color on red maples. The area has been exceptionally dry, which could impact the duration of the fall foliage display.

West-central and Southwest Regions

The Lawrence/Mercer County (Clear Creek State Forest District) service forester reports leaves are starting to change. A light frost and cool nights have pushed maples, sumac, dogwood, black gum and Virginia creeper vine to exhibit a beautiful burgundy color. Many black walnut trees, birches and aspens are pale yellow. The season is setting up for perhaps the best fall foliage display in years.

Forbes State Forest staff report green predominating the forests of southwestern Pennsylvania, but the first splashes of fall color are beginning to show in black gum (red), black birch and black cherry (yellow), and maples showing yellow, red, and orange. Oaks remain fully green and will be one of the last species to change.

The 2020 growing season presented abnormally dry conditions which may impact localized areas of fall color, but beautiful overall fall color is anticipated. Recent frosts may jumpstart the season and the forecast indicates good conditions for fall color development.

A great place to kick off the fall foliage season is in the higher elevations of the Laurel Highlands on Chestnut and Laurel ridges. Visit Pennsylvania’s highest point, Mt. Davis (3,213 feet), on Forbes State Forest, in southern Somerset County. These areas will be the first in southwestern Pennsylvania to show fall color and will peak up to two weeks earlier than surrounding lowlands.

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Central and Southcentral Regions

In Bald Eagle State Forest, a few yellow, red, and orange leaves have been observed on ridges. There is a bit more color in the valleys with goldenrod blooms accentuating the field edges. In the Seven Mountains area, black gums are displaying bright red along with a slight change of yellow/red in red maples along roads. With recent nighttime temperatures in the 40s, peak color is expected during the second to third week in October.

The Perry and Juniata County service forester (Tuscarora State Forest District) reports the area is still green overall, but very dry. Leaves are wilting in understory shrubs and some leaves have fallen prematurely.

In Weiser State Forest District, observers in Lebanon and Dauphin counties have noted a change “almost overnight.” Black walnut is pale yellow, and sugar maples have begun to turn yellow-orange. Understory spicebush is showing vivid fall hues. With recent dry days and cool to frosty nights, peak color in the region could be as few as ten days away.

In Buchanan State Forest (Franklin, Fulton and Bedford counties) a few black gums are changing to a dark red and birches are just beginning to yellow. State forest roads along ridgetops (and vistas along the way) are recommended for a scenic fall foliage drive. With fall foliage season underway, peak is expected in the region in mid-October.

In Rothrock State Forest (Huntingdon County) the late summer drought and patchy frost have left foliage largely unaffected. Dogwoods and black gums are reddening while black birch, red maple and walnut trees are showing a tinge of yellow. The northern portion of the district (southern Centre County) will have the most colorful leaves now until peak color, which is expected in mid-October.

The Michaux State Forest (Adams, Franklin and Cumberland counties) service forester reports the dry summer was hard on some species. Drought stress is showing in the form of yellowing and browning leaves. Otherwise, there has been no noteworthy transition to fall color in the forest district. Peak is estimated in mid- to late October.

Northeast Region

Foresters in Delaware State Forest have reported exciting transitions to fall color. Black gums are adding some brighter red colors to the landscape. Red maples have begun to turn nice bright shades of red, mostly around the swamps and wet areas. Sugar maples have started to turn yellow/orange. Sassafras and poison ivy have been changing as well, contributing orange and red to the forest. The Tobyhanna area (Monroe County) is currently displaying some of the best color in the district.

Foresters in Pinchot State Forest reported some red and sugar maples have started to change to bright red and pale yellow. Other species, including birches, basswood, walnut and aspen, have started to change in pockets. Limited rain throughout most northeastern counties could hasten peak foliage this year. Good fall foliage viewing can currently be found in the Thornhurst and Equinunk tracts, Salt Springs and Prompton State parks, and State Game Lands 70.

Southeast Region

Foresters in William Penn State Forest district report no significant fall foliage observations.

Contact Marcus Schneck at mschneck@pennlive.com.

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