Drought's impact on fall foliage tourism still unknown

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Capital News Service
LANSING – Will a drought-shortened color season blunt the impact of Great Lakes fall tourism?
Stress induced by the dry summer may have leaves starting to fall a week or so earlier than normal, said Bert Cregg, a professor at Michigan State University’s Department of Forestry.
The truncated season has some tourism officials concerned.

The fall colors attract a lot of visitors and money to the state, said George Zimmermann, vice president for Travel Michigan, a public-private partnership that encourages tourism. It is featured in the state’s promotional advertisements.
“Certainly, a shorter season would not be something we would prefer,” he said.
But Zimmermann said he expects hotels and restaurants that cater to fall tourists to take it in stride.
“It might have some modest impact, but we would still expect robust fall travel,” Zimmermann said, noting that seasonal activities like outdoor recreation and going to wineries and farmer’s markets don’t necessarily depend on the leaf color.
In general, the dry months mean stress-induced, earlier leaf fall, but the arrival of color also depends on location and local weather, Cregg said.
Leaves are the main way trees lose water, so dropping them earlier defends them from drought, Cregg said. It is a way of shutting down until conditions are more favorable.
Vibrancy of the leaf color is also affected by the drought.
“Most research indicates that the degree of ‘redness’ in maples is mostly related to nutrient concentrations in the leaves,” said Cregg. “Drought can promote earlier color or, if the drought is severe, may shorten the display due to early leaf fall.”
And fall color isn’t the same everywhere, Zimmermann noted.
“Michigan is big enough that it doesn’t all arrive at the same time, everywhere,” Zimmermann said. “It’s always moving from north to south.”
Matthew Hall writes for Great Lakes Echo.

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