It's nearly showtime for the region's spectacular fall foliage displays
ALFRED STATION — Waiting for the leaves to change on the eastern edge of Allegany County is almost theatrical.
It’s like the final few nervous minutes before the curtains part to reveal the fabulous set and the actors on a stage. There is a charge in the air, excitement is building, but the show hasn’t begun.
Eager as a theatergoer waiting for the performance to begin, I took a long drive to every nook and cranny of Alfred Station last week, camera in hand.
I walked Shaw Road. I pulled into a parking spot on Route 21, scurried down a creek bank and took some photos at the foot of a creek. Up Hamilton Hill Road, down Hamilton Hill. More camera clicks.
The leafy tints are muted. I see the forest, but not the trees. I’m reminded of the discordant notes of a pit orchestra warming up.
But it is almost showtime. Indian Summer’s curtain is about to part, revealing fall’s show-stopping bounty.
It's time to talk to a theater critic, I mean a forestry expert, about what’s coming.
Donald J. Leopold, a Distinguished Teaching Professor at the College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, didn’t try to subdue his excitement as he previewed the upcoming fall foliage season for The Spectator.
“Right now I’d say the fall colors are probably on their usual schedule. In terms of about the third week in October they tend to peak, but some species are weeks ahead, but some, especially oaks – and there are a lot of oaks in the Southern Tier especially on south and west-facing slopes – the oaks are a week later anyway, no matter what else is happening,” Leopold said.
Leopold put the ideal window for viewing foliage this year as Oct. 18-21. He said “you get the best fall color with maximum sunlight. Maximum sunlight, temperatures above freezing is ideal for bright color.”
He continued, “It looks like it’s going to be a really good fall color year. The cool temperatures we’re having at night are ideal. As long as the temperatures don’t get too close to freezing, like below 30, the fall colors should continue to march along and be really good.
For non-experts, fall leaf colors solve summer’s secrets.
“All during the summer you have to be trained to pick out every tree in the landscape at a distance because of the subtle textural differences and maybe a slightly different green color, but this time of year, when you look out at the landscape, you can pick out 10 to 15 different tree species because the crowns are well-defined. They are different shapes and the colors outline those shapes.”
Leopold provided the following descriptive guide to identifying tress while viewing fall foliage.
Colors of leaves
“There’s a big group of gold. The quaking aspen would be the latest tree to turn. That’s usually after all the sugar maples are bare.”
“The hickories are a beautiful gold, and they usually peak around the end of October.”
“Yellow poplar or tulip poplar is an outstanding yellow as well.”
“White Ash is purple and red, and people are noticing more and more White Ash because they are noticing big dead crowns in the forest from the Emerald Ash Borer.”
“Sugar maple is just the color of fire. It’s reds and oranges and a little bit of yellow.”
“Red maple, which is one of the more common trees in the New York state forest, on a single branch, the leaves could be pure red, they could be pure yellow, they could be everything in between on a single branch.”
“Oaks are all browns and chocolates and reds. You rarely see yellows in the oaks.”
Leopold enjoys the Adirondacks, state parks near Syracuse, and areas within a reasonable driving distance of the Southern Tier.
“There are so many trees over in Letchworth because of its varied topography,” he said. “Then you’ve got the waterfalls on top of it.
“Any place that has a really interesting topography and really big expanses are really some of the neatest places to go this time of year.”
Conditions can be perfect for a spectacular foliage show, but Mother Nature, like a harsh critic, can shut it down before its full run is complete.
“We’ll get this big front that comes through, lots of wind and rain, and those two things will just chase the leaves off , and we get cheated out of a week or week and a half of fall color. It’s really disappointing, and that seems to happen a fair amount in upstate New York,” Leopold said.