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Lifestyle: Festive fall colors bring visitors to region | Lifestyles

Lifestyle: Festive fall colors bring visitors to region | Lifestyles

Although meteorological experts are predicting a pleasant but patchy fall show, area tourism agencies are ready for fall festivities of any hue.

According to a Cornell University media release, summer’s conditions will likely impact the duration of autumn’s colors.

“The mid-summer drought is likely to be the key weather parameter affecting fall foliage,” Arthur DeGaetano, director of the Northeast Regional Climate Center and professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, said in the release. “Areas in southern New England, the Hudson Valley of New York and parts of central Vermont have been particularly dry. Such dry conditions, particularly if they extend into the fall, may delay the onset of fall colors. Trees that have been particularly hard hit by the dry conditions are likely to show only muted colors, with leaves dropping quickly. Thus, in some areas, the reds and yellows of fall may not last as long as normal. Some especially drought-stressed trees have already (begun) to drop their leaves. Northern New England largely escaped this summer’s drought, so there the return to cooler temperatures (is) likely to lead to quintessential New England fall colors.”

“I think the lack of rain over most of the summer will cause many trees in drier areas to start changing their leaves early,” Taryn Bauerle, an associate professor of plant science, echoed in the release. “We have had a fair amount of rainfall in the last two weeks, but I am not sure if it is enough to affect fall foliage. If the rain does continue, it could just result in knocking the senescing leaves off the trees earlier. Overall, colors should be very nice this year, but maybe a bit patchy. Early October should be the optimal time to visit New York, with higher elevation areas having more substantial color than lower elevations.”

Lisa Wisely, tourism director with Great Western Catskills Tourism of Delaware County, is a field observer for I Love NY’s Fall Foliage Report for New York state. In a mid-September interview, Wisely estimated upstate leaves at “about 10%.”

“I think downstate is already fully turned, people are reporting,” she said. “We’ll probably get to 25% (in late September), and then it will go quickly. I’m not really sure how to predict what this really dry summer will bring us. It’s hard to identify the exact perfect time, but usually from now through Indigenous People’s Day — sometimes we’re lucky and it will extend beyond that –— but really from (Sept. 25) to that long weekend is when we see the most pops of color. I always say the height of it is like Fruity Pebbles.”

Cassandra Harrington, executive director with Destination Marketing Corporation for Otsego County, noted a correlation between slow-to-turn leaves and tourism. Harrington’s office also reports to I Love NY’s leaf-peeping campaign, for Otsego and Schoharie counties. Harrington said, because questions are simple and standardized, “people are willing to participate and it’s one of I Love NY’s most popular campaigns … throughout the year.”

“We always have a little bit of a lull in tourism between our baseball fan club in the summer and then the first week of September being Labor Day,” she said. “People are adjusting to their new routines, then soon after, our fall tourism picks up. But, this year, we’re seeing a slow start to fall. I think it’s partially due to a dry summer and it being so warm; we haven’t really had a first frost yet. We only really have maybe 5% change in the Cooperstown area, and I’ve traveled outside of Cooperstown and seen a little bit more, but we’re OK with it and maybe we’ll still be able to capitalize.”

To that end, experts said, autumnal activities abound.

“What people do here is just be outside and drive,” Wisely said. “On our website, we have a couple of drives we recommend, and people do a lot of fall hiking and a lot of outdoor dining still happens, sometimes in really beautiful locations where you can see a lot of beauty.

“There’s Palmer Hill in the Andes, with covered mountains with really good views,” she continued. “And the Catskill Scenic Trail, which is actually 26 miles long, so that really gives you the whole scope, because you’re walking through a variety of landscapes, depending on how long you walk.”

“One thing that’s certainly growing in popularity is the Fly Creek Valley Corn Maze,” Harrington said. “That’s right around the corner from the Fly Creek Cider Mill, and they just started pressing, so between now and late fall, you can go and watch them press fresh cider onsite and they have a brand-new tasting room, where you can go and taste your choice of different local wines, hard ciders, regular ciders, cider slushies — all the things.

“Another thing that’s new is the Rail Explorers,” she continued. “They share the track with the Cooperstown & Charlotte Valley Railroad, which offers fall scenic tours, as well, but Rail Explorers offers two- and four-person recumbent rail bikes with a motor assist, so anyone with any ability can do it. It’s BYO snacks and beverages, and they have a new fireside tour, which goes south on the train tracks, which haven’t been used for some time, and at the turnaround point, they have firepits. You can bring your own stuff to make s’mores, or they have kits, and it’s really lovely. That’s at sunset, so it makes for a really nice ride.”

And, for thrill-seeking leaf-peepers, Harrington said, Otsego County offers the Cooperstown Candlelit Ghost Tours, “Things that Go Bump in the Night” at the Farmers’ Museum and Hyde Hall’s “Hyde and Shriek” tours. “If you pair that up with a hike through Glimmerglass State Park and sit by the lake shore … the colors are amazing and the lake itself takes on this beautiful green hue,” she said.

Leaf-peepers, sources said, represent a mix, with the pandemic amplifying interest.

“In the report from Sept. 1 to Nov. 30 of 2021, the majority of our visitors were coming from the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area and New York City,” Harrington said. “Followed by Binghamton, then quite a drop-off to Syracuse and Utica, then Pennsylvania. (Visitation) certainly went way up during the pandemic and we haven’t really seen it come down. I think people’s lifestyles have changed.

“We get a lot of locals,” she continued. “We can tell by our social media posts when folks are excited about pressing at Fly Creek Cider Mill. It’s a fall tradition. and we’re continually adding fall traditions to bolster that … so we’re seeing more and more locals.”

“Our visitor population is primarily downstate, where we’re marketing,” Wisely said. “The greatest portion of visitation to our website and that we’re seeing is coming from the New York City metro area, with a lot coming from the Philadelphia area and a lot coming from Rochester and Canada, when you’re allowed to travel. We get the luxury of living in this vacation wonderland, but a lot of local people really take advantage of all the beauty that we have here and outdoor recreation, especially with COVID. I can’t quantify it in dollars, but I think, right now, with remote working and people experiencing the city in different ways, it’s just opened up a whole new audience for us, of people who might not have known about the Catskills. Fall is a really busy time for us, specifically for weddings and festivals that draw people in — we have Taste of the Catskills and we’re doing Footie Fest and hosting that here in Delhi. That’s a co-ed soccer weekend tournament run by people in New York City, but they entice people to come up and enjoy the foliage and all that’s going on.

“I think Delaware County in particular has just seen an increase in visitation in general,” she continued. “When people are thinking about where they want to go … it’s a quick drive from wherever you are to up here, where you can have a predominantly outdoor experience, and that has really benefited us in a lot of ways. We’re where the water source is for New York City, so we just don’t have the kind of development in a majority of the area, so it really is unspoiled in a way other counties of the Catskills don’t get to claim .

We don’t have the big box stores or malls or the things you think about with economic development, which is sometimes a challenge, but when it comes to beauty and the outdoors, it’s an incredible plus for us.”

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