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Better fall leaf colors expected

September 11, 2000

Better fall leaf colors expected



By LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer


Leaf watchers, take heart.

The area's trees have bounced back from three years of drought and are on the verge of turning fantastic colors this year, Tri-State area foresters say.

The sights could be spotty in some areas, particularly in Washington County, that are still recovering from an attack of leaf-munching gypsy moths, experts say.

South Mountain between Smithsburg and Brownsville and Elk Ridge northeast of Clear Spring were the areas hardest hit by gypsy moths this summer, said George Eberling, a Washington County forester for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

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Some of the trees damaged by gypsy moths did not grow new leaves, which could result in empty patches of brown among the brilliant reds, oranges and golds, he said.

For the most part, this year is shaping up better than 1997 through 1999, when leaves began to fall prematurely because of the dry weather.

"It should definitely be a much better year, a typical year. We should see the really good stuff the first of October," said Dave Scamardella, a forester with the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry in McConnellsburg, Pa.

Scamardella has already seen black gum trees that have turned purple, he said.

The colors generally peak in mid- to late October, depending on the fall weather, foresters said.

"It's all a series of chemical reactions," said Don VanHassent, supervisor of forest stewardship for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

When trees are deprived of water, they don't produce as much glucose, or food. That stress affects the color and some leaves simply fall off before they have a chance to change color, he said.

But the damage isn't permanent.

"Trees are actually pretty hardy," he said.

Area tourism officials were encouraged by the good fall foliage forecast.

October is one of the busiest months for tourism, said Jolene Thomas, director of membership development for the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Even when the leaves aren't as brilliant, central Pennsylvania gets a lot of fall visitors, said Wanda Kennefick, vice president of operations for the Pennsylvania Capitol Region Vacation Bureau.

"They come and say, 'Oh, they aren't as nice.' But they still come," she said.

In Washington County, some trees have started to turn early, which could mean the season will be more prolonged and less dramatic, Eberling said.

A lot depends on the weather in the coming weeks, with cool nights providing the best conditions for a spectacular view.

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