Fall colors only a drive away

By Aisha I. Jefferson

Dreaming of leaves dancing around the autumn breeze, showcasing their brilliant shades of brown, gold, yellow, orange and red?

Leaf watchers anticipating trees changing from the green hues representative of summer to their fall foliage, need not travel north. There are several places close by across the state to take in nature's awesome display.

”There's a progressive trend with North Georgia changing color first and South Georgia completing the cycle,“ said director Becky Kelley of the Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites Division.

Although leaves tend to change color sometime in October and November, Kelley said there's no way to know when it will happen.

That is why the State Parks & Historic Sites Division created the Leaf Watch 2005 program to assist leaf observers in tracking fall color at state parks throughout Georgia. The State Parks & Historic Sites Division Web site lists 21 parks including those in the mountain, north, middle and south region that are ideal for visiting. The state's mountain parks have the most vivid color, while parks in middle Georgia may not showcase as vivid a display but are still pretty, according to the State Parks & Historic Sites Division Web site.

”For a short drive from metro Atlanta, you get to see some of the most beautiful foliage around,“ Kelley said, adding it generally takes more than one day to enjoy the fall foliage.

She also said part of the fun in watching fall foliage is journeying to the desired location.

”Once you get there, you have magnificent vistas of mountains of colors,“ Kelley said, naming Tallulah Gorge State Park at Tallulah Falls is an example. ”And it's just too cool.“

But what causes leaves to change their color?

”The amount of sunlight and cooler temperatures can probably trigger the chemical reactions in the leaf,“ said meteorologist Verona Murrell with the National Weather Services Peachtree City office.

An U.S. Agriculture Department Web site supports Murrell's theory, naming leaf pigments, the length of night and weather as three factors that determine autumn leaf color. The Agriculture Department Web site continued, explaining that longer night-time hours heavily influence the timing of leaf color change.

It also listed chlorophyll, carotenoids and anthocyanins as the three color pallets involved in autumn color. Necessary for photosynthesis, chlorophyll gives leaves the brilliant green coloring that we long for during the darker, colder days of winter. Carotenoids produces yellow, orange and brown colors in various plants and animals. Anthocyanins is water soluble, appearing in the watery liquid of leaf cells, supplies color to red apples, concord grapes, blueberries, strawberries and plums.

Regardless of what the process is, McDonough resident Teresa Hall-Bestwick and her daughters, Alanna, 6, and Marisa, 9, enjoy visiting different parks to watch the leaves change.

”It's like an original show every year,“ she said. ”Sometimes you even get a hint of purple in there if you really look.“

Hall-Bestwick said they visited the Blue Ridge Mountains in northern Georgia last year, and said they usually stay overnight not far from Hiawassee. She also named Helen as another place she likes to visit to view foliage.

”The leaves change better there than they do down here. You see more colors,“ she said, naming the Blue Ridge Mountains as her favorite place to go. ”I've never in my life seen such colors ... The colors of the leaves are so unique!“

To keep up with the autumn color display progress, call the Agriculture Department's Forest Service's Fall Color Hotline at (800) 354-4595, or visit Leaf Watch 2005 at www.georgiastate parks.org.