Fall should be brilliant for both leaf peeping and tourism in Maine.
State forestry officials are expecting some of the most colorful foliage ever. Farmers say pumpkins are plumping up nicely in their fields. Bookings are strong at hotels and inns through next month.
“Anecdotally we are hearing good things,” said Carolann Ouellette, director of the Maine Office of Tourism.
While some Mainers are known to heave a sigh of relief when Labor Day and the summer crowds go home, the leaf-peeping season brings about half as many of them back. Fall is the second busiest time for tourists in Maine with close to 8 million visitors making the trek in the fall, compared the 14.7 million visitors to Maine in the summer, according to research for the Maine Office of Tourism.
More leaf peepers head to Maine than Vermont, with Maine snagging 0.7 percent of the overnight leisure trips last fall in the United States, compared to 0.5 percent for Vermont.
The fall foliage season was declared officially open Wednesday by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, which posts weekly foliage reports on its website from Maine forest rangers who fan out across the state and make visual inspections.
Gale Ross, fall foliage spokeswoman for the Maine Forest Service, said color changes are now taking place in Aroostook, northern Penobscot and Piscataquis counties, where the foliage usually peaks during the last week of September.
The colors then spread south, peaking in central and western Maine during the first week of October and along the coast and southern Maine the third week of October.
Ross said Maine Forest Service specialists attribute this season’s brilliant forecast to ideal growing conditions for native maples, especially red and sugar maples, which contribute the deep reds and neon orange hues to the fall landscape.
Day length, rain, sugar accumulations in leaves, wind and stretches of cool, sunny fall weather without a killing frost are factors affecting colorful foliage. The color comes out in leaves when the production of chlorophyll slows down as the length of daylight decreases. As green pigments wane, the yellows, scarlets and maroons become visible.
Jeff Tarling, Portland city arborist, said barring any hurricanes, the season is looking up compared to last year’s lackluster display triggered by dry conditions in the early fall.
He said soaking rain over the past few weeks helped. He said red maples in lowlands will start putting on their annual fall display in another week in southern Maine.
“It is going to be a really good season,” said Tarling.
Farmers say growing conditions have been ideal for another fall icon, pumpkins.
“It is going to be great, alongside the apples,” said Ed Le- Blanc of Anderson Farms and Pumpkin World in Dayton.
LeBlanc said he has already sold 30 to 40 tons of pumpkins, which begin popping up in lawn displays as soon as Labor Day is past. By the end of the season 500 tons will go out the door, LeBlanc said.
“It is a good year for fall lovers,” LeBlanc said.
Greg Dugal, executive director of the Maine Innkeepers Association, said it appears bookings are strong, following a very good August. He said revenue per available hotel room was up 11 percent year to date through July in the Portland market compared to the same period last year.
“It looks very good through Columbus Day weekend,” said Dugal.
At the top of the state, the foliage has a way to go to reach peak, said Kevin Simmons, owner of the Caribou Inn and Convention Center.
Simmons said he flew into Caribou on Wednesday and noticed little color yet.
Simmons said fall is a busy season at the inn and motorcylists have turned up in large numbers in recent years to view the foliage against the rolling green hills and potato fields.
But many people forget about Caribou as a leaf-peeping destination until it is too late, Simmons said.
“We do peak before the rest of the state and by the time we are thought of it has already gone by,” he said.
Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: