Overall outlook poor for fall color

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Crisp nights and the warm days of Indian Summer herald the arrival of fall in the Ozarks.

The energizing cooler days are a welcome relief from this summer's intense heat and drought that turned yards and crops brown. Even through the stress of a long, hot summer, trees in southwest Missouri have bounced back from late summer and early fall rains. Many area residents will only have to step into their back yards and view Mother Nature at her best.

When the oak leaves turn yellow and start to blanket the yard, sumac and other low-lying plants are already shifting to fiery reds.

According to Kerry Hays, assistant superintendent at Roaring River State Park, the fall outlook is "good" for this year.

"We had a dry summer, and the trees were stressed," Hays said. "We had a lot of rain in September that put a lot of moisture back into the trees. I expect we will see some gorgeous colors."

Naturalist Tim Smith said he expects the color to continue through the end of October, but that the oranges, rust and yellow colors will be somewhat dull.

"A few individual trees will, for whatever reason, be brilliant," Smith said. "But overall, I expect it to be a bit dull."

There are 42 oak species in the Ozarks with each changing color at a different time. Add to that mix maples, hickory, beech, ash, sumac, dogwood and gum, each changing on their own schedules, and the hillsides blaze with variegated colors of orange, yellow and green. The red and purple leaves are created in the fall when sugars -- food for the trees -- are made during the warm days and are then trapped in the leaves during the cool nights.

Typically, the best fall colors in southwest Missouri occur within the last two weeks of October and first week of November. Area outdoor enthusiasts will find fall the perfect time for hiking, bike riding or picnicking along the scenic trails and parks of southwest Missouri.

The first color turns begin along the rivers in low valleys, which makes the perfect opportunity to head up to Missouri wine country for a weekend of wine-tasting and wandering along the Katy Trail along the Missouri River.

The Katy Trail is a Missouri state park and features 240 miles of Rails-to-Trails. Sections of the trail are part of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail and the American Discovery Trail. Most of the trail follows the northern bank of the Missouri River, offering outstanding views of rocky bluffs covered with an abundance of fall foliage and wildlife.

Colors then tend to turn along the hillsides, providing another perfect opportunity for a daytrip along old Route 66, portions of which have been restored to their glory days when the highway was known as the Mother Road, and offers a look into some of the area's rich history.

Hikers will have plenty of opportunity to enjoy the trails and picnic grounds at Roaring River State Park when fall color is at its heights.

"There are two trails, Firetower Trail and Eagle's Nest, that will provide a lot of colorful foliage," Hays said. "The view from Deer Leap is spectacular. Eagle's Nest is a more difficult trail, while Firetower Trail will provide a lot of good foliage. The River Trail is one of the easiest in the park and will offer a lot of color as well."

The park and campground #1 stay open year round, although other activities slow to a winter schedule in the late fall.

Another weekend adventure might entice wine enthusiasts out for a pleasant journey along the Missouri Wine Trail, which winds through the Ozarks from Joplin to Seymour. Seven wineries along the route offer the best of southwest Missouri's vintners.

Foliage turns earlier the further north one travels. For example, peak foliage viewing occurs a week earlier in central Missouri than it does in southwest Missouri, allowing travelers to plan for more than one weekend get-away this fall.

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