BY O.J. EARLY
The brilliant colors of fall have been lagging behind in the lower elevations of East Tennessee so this year, fall foliage watchers said this week.
But the parade of yellow, red and orange may soon explode in Greene County.
"With this cold front coming through and all the dry weather we've had, that may well accelerate the changing of leaves," according to Dr. Jeff Horner, a biology professor and dean of the natural science division at Walters State Community College.
October is the usually the county's driest month of the year, a fact that affects when colors begin to change.
"That may slow the process and maybe even mute the colors some," said Stanley Strickland, Horner's colleague at Walters State.
"Some trees may abort their leaves early in the fall due to the dry conditions. Green leaves may go straight to brown and seemingly mute the vivid color expectations."
According to Horner, who was interviewed today, dedicated leaf-watchers should welcome the coming cold weather.
"The change in the leaves is directly associated with the change in the weather." he said. "With this cold front coming in, that should really accelerate things."
If and when fall color begins layering the landscape, local residents won't have to drive far to see the hues of the season.
"Residents of Greene County can experience fall foliage right in their backyard," Strickland said. "Greene County contains mountainous areas both to the northern and southern reaches of the county."
A drive on the Horton Highway, in the shadow of the Chimney Tops and Fodderstack mountain areas, is great for spotting fall color, he said.
"In southern Greene County, Paint Creek recreation area can rival any area of the Smokies in the fall and will be a lot less crowded."
Cheryl Summers, recreation program manager for the Unaka Ranger Station, also said a number of areas in the county usually sport great fall foliage viewing opportunities.
A drive to Paint Creek or the Houston Valley Road, or a hike to Margarette Falls, all in southern Greene County, should make leaf-lookers happy, she said.
When should you take a fall colors adventure?
"I think the colors are prettiest when the sun hits them, so the time of day would change based on if the location is getting morning or evening sun," Summers said.
With the Great Smoky Mountains only a day's drive away, scenic views are always close this time of year.
Fall colors have peaked in the higher elevations of the Smokies, the National Park Service has said.
The same is true in bordering western North Carolina, where fall colors have reached their peak in the higher elevations, the Associated Press has reported.
To really enjoy the seasonal display, take Clingman's Dome Road, the Blue Ridge Parkway or the Foothills Parkway, the National Park Service suggests.
Some other drives and hikes that the Park Service recommends include:
*Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, a narrow road in Gatlinburg that stretches through forests;
* Appalachian Trail, a 3.4-mile round-trip hike from Newfound Gap to Indian Gap, and
* Look Rock Tower, located near the Foothills Parkway.
Tennessee has a hotline to call for up-to-date information about fall foliage. Call 1-800-697-4200.