Autumn splendor

By Katie Demeria

The mountains are dappled with specks of brilliant red and crisp yellows, and leaves are starting to blanket the ground. Fall has arrived, and tree experts say it is going to be a colorful year.

The leaves started changing in the final weeks of September, with more reds, yellows and purples visible going into October. David Means, certified arborist with Copper Forest LLC in Front Royal, said this should be an especially colorful year.

“We had an excellent growing season early in the year, so the chlorophyll has been very strong, and now it is leaving, of course,” Means said. “Just based on the health of the plants throughout the season, I do think we will see good color.”

The rainfall, Means pointed out, was seasonal this year, which helps the trees produce vibrant colors. Even though September was dry, he said that should not take away from the solid rainfall totals seen earlier in the growing season.

If the trees are healthy, then both carotenoid, which causes yellow and orange, and anthocyanin, which causes red and purple, are present beneath the chlorophyll. The carotenoid and anthocyanin should have a strong presence once the chlorophyll recedes, making colorful leaves.

Tourists routinely visit the valley during October to get a good look at the fall foliage. Shenandoah National Park produces a weekly color report so visitors have a good idea where to go for the best views.

The park’s Public Affairs Officer Karen Beck-Herzog said the report is necessary because the colors are visible at different areas in the park throughout the month.

“Different elevations impact the colors,” Beck-Herzog sad. “The color starts at the top of the mountain. You have the cooler temperatures up there, which is likely a major factor.”

The peak time to see the colors, she said, is usually the second or third week of October. That changes year-to-year, but it should be true of this season.

“There are several peaks throughout the park because we have such a variety of elevations,” she said. “You have the higher areas, and then you have the forests that carpet the mountains as they make their way down to the valley.”

Means pointed out that usually the colors are more vibrant on the mountains than in the valley due to the cooler air. And, he added, valley residents are usually lucky enough to see the colors into the first week of November, as well.

Even though the strongest colors will become visible mid-October, Means said some, like the tulip poplar and walnuts, which turn yellow, are already in the process of changing.

The Shenandoah National Park color report for Friday states that “this week the mountains are polka-dotted with color.”

“Every fall is so different,” Beck-Herzog said. “Sometimes you have the dogwoods — I’ve seen them turn a deep purple. I just enjoy watching to see what this year will bring.”

She added that, since October is the park’s busiest month, residents hoping to enjoy the colors are encouraged to come during the week so they can avoid the rush.

View the park’s fall color report, updated every Friday, at

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or

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