By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
Autumn is here … and it provides many opportunities to travel within the Mountain State to observe how Mother Nature has been very generous when it comes to bathing the state in beauty! If you enjoy the brilliant colors of this season, don’t waste time! Plan to put on your jeans and a sweatshirt soon and travel some of West Virginia’s country roads (or interstate highways). Experience some crisp autumn air and take in the palette of brilliant reds, oranges and golds on the hillsides before chilling winds wash them away!
Current state forecasts are calling for most of the area to average in the 50-65 degree range for the month of October. Typically, a hot, dry summer produces a brilliant show of leaf color during the fall season. However, plentiful recent rainfall and dipping nightly temperatures may bring color to its peak earlier this year. So don’t delay.
West Virginia is noted for its abundance of fall festivals, and its dazzling colors are a drawing card for tourism. Many of these fall festivals – such as Salem’s Apple Butter Festival, Kingwood’s Buckwheat Festival, the Forest Festival in Elkins – have just concluded, and most of those endured some showers and breezy, cooler weather thanks to the northern turn of Hurricane Joaquin.
According to a New York tree scientist, once leaves reach their full peak color, they typically remain vivid for perhaps only five to seven days. However, heavy rain, winds and cooler temps can affect that, removing the leaves from the trees prior to their peaking.
West Virginia state foresters are reporting that the first week or two in October will be a colorful one in the state’s higher elevations. So it was good timing as the Canaan Valley/Blackwater Falls area in Tucker County hosted its Leaf Peepers Festival the last weekend in September. Not only could visitors and locals enjoy the foliage changing color, this ‘Oktoberfest’ held in late September supplied everything from inflatables, carnival games, wood-carving demos, hiking, horseback riding, horse-drawn wagon rides, a car show, talent show, crafts, music, food, corn hole and golf tourneys, and more!
Even if you missed out of some of these popular WV fall festivals, you can still catch some of the mountains’ dazzling colors if you hit the road soon. Fall colors are vibrant in different parts of the state at different times. Foliage peaks are only at 50% in some areas, while others are close to peaking now. Be aware that the WV Division of Forestry offers weekly fall foliage reports and maps of fall color by county online; visit www.wvforestry.com to check area predictions for colorful viewing opportunities before you set out.
If more rain and windy conditions from Joaquin sweep inland to West Virginia, colorful leaf displays will be found on the ground and not on the trees! Plan your ‘peeping’ outing soon!