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Mother Nature is back for her compelling annual fall color tour, starring one of the state’s fiercest economic powerhouses – the tree.
And the best part is the admission – free!
“This is one of the most popular science shows running — from curtain up to standing ovation,” said Carmen Hardin, a forest science specialist with the Department of Natural Resources.
While the annual fall color show is always a huge attraction for the thousands who flock to Wisconsin, and contribute to the state’s strong tourism industry, Hardin says it is the state’s forest industry that is the basis of the show.
“It’s all orchestrated by Mother Nature using the state’s 16 million acres of forests. When they’re not turning colors for all to ‘ooh and aah’ about, the trees help contribute $2.6 billion annually in forest industry wages,” Hardin said.
New fall color social media events
But the color show doesn’t stop with the forest line. This year, the DNR Facebook page will host a fall color photo contest and the DNR Twitter account will issue periodic messages about where tree colors can be found along with some science facts on. People can look for the rules of the photo contest, Wisconsin’s Color Contest, on the DNR Facebook page and the DNR Twitter messages to start around September 12.
“We’ll help you find the best color – and you can share your finds with everyone on the DNR Facebook page,” said Trish Ossmann, DNR social media coordinator.
What about that science: When do trees turn and why?
In late summer, broadleaved trees respond to lengthening nights and cooling temperatures by reducing levels of a green pigment known as chlorophyll that is used in photosynthesis — the production of sugars in the leaves. When the trees reduce their green pigment, the oranges and yellows in the leaves come through.
Red and purple fall colors have a different origin, and are due to anthocyanin pigments that are actively produced in late summer at the same time as the green chlorophyll deteriorates.
The brightest red and purple colors appear when autumn days are bright and nights are chilly but not freezing. These are the conditions which increase production of the red and purple pigments. Orange and yellow colors tend to be fairly constant from year to year because the orange and yellow pigments are always present in the leaves.
But some people reported they were seeing trees turning color early and dropping their leaves in August.
DNR Forest Health Specialist Bill McNee says this was due to last year’s drought and the dry summer some areas of the state experienced again this year.
“Trees without enough water started to shut down early to reduce further water losses. This meant they went through the color change earlier than they normally would,” McNee says.
Trees are starting to turn in the northern areas and it will take about a month or so for the color to spread south. Roughly speaking, you can look for the color season to run from about September 10 to October 10.
A state with a view
“People often ask us where to go to see the best colors,” Hardin said. “The answer is anywhere in the state. It’s all a matter of keeping track where the color is traveling.”
Hardin says Wisconsin’s State Forests – Black River, Brule, Flambeau, Governor Knowles, Havenwoods, Northern Highland-American Legion, Point Beach, Peshtigo River and Kettle Moraine’s six units — are great for viewing.
State parks and natural areas also offer great viewing. In fact, Wisconsin state parks, forests, recreation areas, trails, and wildlife areas provide more than 2,730 miles of hiking trails. To learn more about these areas search the DNR website for “public lands.” The Ice Age National Scenic Trail, with about 600 of an eventual 1,000 miles completed, and about 75 miles of the North Country National Scenic Trail are in Wisconsin.
People can also track the color changes and plan sight-seeing trips by following DNR tweets or by visiting the Wisconsin Department of Tourism website’s fall color report.
“Remember when you head out to also take your camera,” adds Ossmann, the agency’s social media coordinator.” You can enter the DNR Facebook Wisconsin’s Color Contest! You also can enter a great photo from past Wisconsin falls, too.”