FALL kaleidoscope

MARQUETTE – Sparse, vibrant pops of yellow, orange and crimson are beginning to appear throughout the Upper Peninsula, signaling the arrival of fall.

Predictions are indicating the Western U.P. will see fall colors soon, with trees expected to reach their peak in mid-September to early October, according to Travel Michigan.

The central U.P. will follow, with colors peaking late this month through mid-October.

The tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, along Lake Superior’s southern shore to the eastern U.P. and down along Lake Michigan, will see the last of the season’s display, with the peak expected in early to mid-October.

“Generally speaking, it changes west to east and inland toward the lake,” said Tom Nemacheck, executive director of the Upper Peninsula Travel and Recreation Association.

While predications and reports can be helpful in planning a color tour or other fall activities, Nemacheck reminds residents and tourists that many factors play into the timing of the color change.

“We can speculate, but there’s no magic moment,” said Nemacheck. “Mother Nature doesn’t really work like that. (The peak) exists in every area at different times, but usually the first and second week in October are premiere.”

Currently, Nemacheck said most areas in the U.P. are reporting color change to be less than 25 percent, with some reporting none at all.

“In another week, it will start to jump up to 25-50 percent in some areas, and will move right along,” he said.

A frequently updated color report, organized by county, is available on the association’s website at www.uptravel.com.

Fall color routes are also provided, Nemacheck said, with tours ranging from 90-220 miles throughout different areas of the U.P.

“We really encourage people to take a drive,” said Anna Dravland, community relations and event marketing coordinator for Travel Marquette. “There are plenty of long, winding roads that are just filled with trees and views. Get away and take a drive and enjoy the colors.”

Travel Marquette’s recommended driving routes and viewing spots – including the County Road 510 bridge above the Dead River and the Thomas Rock scenic overlook in Big Bay – can be found online at www.travelmarquettemichigan.com.

“It’s all within 40 minutes (of Marquette),” Dravland said.

Nemacheck said it’s not so much the color of the leaves that makes fall in the U.P. so spectacular, but more so the setting.

“It’s not just about the individual trees,” he said. “You could find pretty fall color a lot of places in the country, but it’s where it’s set that makes such a big difference. The U.P. has some what of an advantage, having three Great Lakes and inland beauty with waterfalls and different inland lakes.”

While he wouldn’t disclose his favorite viewing spot, Nemacheck said regions with mixes of deciduous trees and evergreens make for a particularly pleasant sight.

“It really makes the color jump out,” he said.

While autumn’s blazing foliage is undoubtedly remarkable, many people are not aware of the physiological process that occurs to make it possible.

Bob Heyd, a forest health specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, said leaves change color due to a chemical that accumulates during longer nights in autumn.

“One of the chemicals produced by the tree and leaves, when nights are too short, the chemical doesn’t last,” said Heyd.

The chemical pigment chlorophyll – the primary pigment used in photosynthesis – is what gives leaves their green color, he said.

When days shorten, the leaves begin to accumulate more of this chemical during the night, stimulating the formation of an abscission layer.

“Once that layer starts forming, the leaves become stressed and the (green) pigment starts to go, and the reds and yellows, those come out,” Heyd said.

Soon after the process occurs, and depending on weather conditions, the trees begin to shed their leaves.

“The length of the (fall color) season relates to how much rain and wind we get,” he said. “The leaves can stay on longer if it’s not windy or dry.”

A fall color map for all of Michigan is available at www.michigan.org/fall.

Kelsie Thompson can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is kthompson@miningjournal.net.