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September 22. 2013 9:58PM

Fall foliage appears on track for a colorful New Hampshire show


The Mount Washington Valley is starting its annual metamorphosis from lush green to brilliant yellow, orange and red. (NANCY BEAN FOSTER PHOTO)

THE CRISP, COOL NIGHTS and bright sunny days of late promise a brilliant start to foliage season.

"It takes a real crystal ball to predict the fall colors," Brendan Prusik, Coos County forester for the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension said. "The biggest factor in determining color quality and the experience of color is the weather during the foliage season itself."

The Granite State was hit with some whacky weather earlier this month, from extremely high temperatures to heavy rains. But Tim Fleury, a field specialist with the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension in Boscawen, said that recent weather doesn't play much of a role in whether leaf-peeping season is a delight or a dud.

"The weather conditions that occur right when the leaves are starting to turn are what really matters," said Fleury. "Those cold nights and warm, sunny days really color up the foliage."

Leaves change color when the days get shorter and trees stop being producing chlorophyll for photosynthesis to make food, said Prusik. With the green chlorophyll gone, the leaves reveal their "true" colors.

In New Hampshire, the process generally starts at the end of September and can last well into October, depending on the region of the state. The farther north, the earlier the leaves change and fall.

"This year seems to be later than usual, but we're getting close now," Fleury said.Color is spreading in the Great North Woods and the White Mountains, but in the southern part of the state, there's still a lot of green.

For those who are impatient, visiting streams, rivers and marshes can offer a quick fix of fall color. "Red maples and other trees that grow in wetlands tend to turn earlier because being in the water stresses them out, so they shut down more quickly," said Fleury.

Lori Harnois, director of the state's Division of Travel and Tourism, said leaf peepers are predicted to spend $1.09 billion this fall, a 3 percent increase over last year.

"We are anticipating about 7.8 million people to come here between now and the end of November, and that would be about 2 percent higher than last year," she said.

"It's a critically important time for inns," said Ed Butler, owner of Notchland Inn in Hart's Location. "We're able to get three or more weeks in where rates are higher than normal and occupancy is higher."

"Foliage season is our busiest season," said Mary Karon, assistant innkeeper at Colby Hill Inn in Henniker. "We're pretty much booked up from the third week in September through the third week in October. Even during the week."

People travel from around the country, and the world, to see New Hampshire's brilliant autumn show.

"We've had people from Texas, Florida, even Europe who book their trips well in advance," said Leslie Switzer, assistant manager of the Chesterfield Inn in West Chesterfield. "People make their plans around foliage season."

To track the foliage season as it progresses, visit http://www.newhampshire.com/section/NEWHAMPSHIRE0307 to see where the brightest spots in the state are.

nfoster@newstote.com


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