HARTFORD, Conn. — This year’s wetter-than-usual summer should contribute to a splendid fall foliage season, according to one of Connecticut’s top forestry experts.
Jeffrey S. Ward, chief scientist of Forestry and Horticulture for the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, said despite gypsy moths in some pockets during the spring, widespread leaf diseases were kept at bay during the spring and summer storms that soaked into trees’ roots and made them healthy and strong.
“We’ve had a lot of deep, soaking rains. When you drive around you see a lot of deep, dark green colors and that’s great. If the trees are healthy going in to fall, you’re more likely to have great colors,” Ward said. “I think this year is going to be one of those great years.”
Gary Lessor, senior meteorologist at the Western Connecticut State University’s Weather Center, said the temperature average in the spring was a bit highger than normal, but rainfall was higher than normal, ranking it as the third-wettest summer on record, after 1955 and 2013.
Those deep, soaking rains, Ward said, are starting to break down the chlorophyll, turning the leaves, in a few trees already. “Some of the trees adjacent to swamps and wetlands are turning a little early because the soils are water-logged, which is stressing those trees earlier than normal,” he said.
Still, the traditional foliage season will begin in earnest in October.
According to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection website, northern Litchfield and Windham counties will reach peak the week of Oct. 3-8. Those entire counties, as well as northern Hartford County and all of Tolland County, will begin peak period the week of Oct. 9-15.
Northern Litchfield and Windham counties will be past peak by Oct. 16-23, at which time all of Hartford and Tolland counties, as well as the northern reaches of New Haven, New London and Fairfield counties, will be peaking.
By Oct. 24-30, Middlesex, New Haven and Fairfield counties will join the state at peak or past peak, except small shoreline areas east of New Haven and west of Bridgeport, which will reach peak the week of Nov. 7-14. By mid-November, the whole state should be past peak.
Here in the Central Susquehanna Valley, the peak colors should start to appear around Oct. 18 and continue for the next two weeks thereafter.
Ward said a hard rain during weeks when leaves are at their reddest could put a damper on colors.
“The red pigments are water-soluble. A hard rain will wash out the colors a little bit,” he said.
Ward said he expects the lingering coronavirus pandemic will put somewhat of a damper on leaf-peeping tourism.
“People come from all over the world to see the colors in a normal year. Most years, just try to get a hotel room in October. This year we’ll have those colors more to ourselves because there is no international tourism,” he said.
Christine Castonguay, interim director of the Connecticut Office of Tourism, also cited the pandemic-era decline in foreign tourism.
“We’re not anticipating international travel in its normal occurrence this year,” she said.
Castonguay did not have season-by-season breakdowns, but she said that in a normal year tourism represents $15.5 billion in annual revenue, and $2.2 billion in tax revenue.
Castonguay’s office hopes to fill the roads, restaurants and hotels anyway by focusing on domestic tourists. She anticipates pent-up demand and Connecticut’s high vaccination rates will help draw tourists to the state’s leafy spots.
Earlier this month, tourism office announced a fall tourism marketing campaign, “Full Color Connecticut.” The $1.4 million campaign is nearly triple the amount usually spent to lure leaf-peepers to the state, and will reach as far south as Philadelphia. Typically the marketing push reaches Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
“It has been a bit challenging, coming off the summer, coming into the fall, with the delta variant,” Castonguay said.
“Connecticut’s tourism and hospitality sector is one of the hardest hit during the pandemic. We want to support these businesses and aid in their recovery.”