On Wednesday marking the first day of fall, leaves in parts of Maine have already started to turn into a fall range of red, orange and yellow.
In the Midcoast, as in the rest of the state, the foliage and peepers that follow are a sure sign of the changing seasons. Below is a list of three recommendations for where to see dynamic sheet signage locally.
But first, what causes the color phenomenon?
According to Joshua Royte, senior conservation scientist at The Nature Conservancy, the changing colors are the result of a chemical known as chlorophyll breaking down in the leaves, revealing the underlying pigments.
Degradation takes place when photosynthesis – the plant’s food-making process – becomes less efficient due to cooler, shorter days and less humidity. Colored pigments help protect leaf cells from excessive sunlight, like sunscreen for people.
Royte added that climate change is impacting fall foliage in Maine, as spring tends to be more than two weeks earlier in the year and fall is later in the year compared to ’80s. It also causes some “desynchronization” of the foliage, Royte said, which means the same types of trees in the same area don’t all change at the same time.
“This means it’s more spread out over time, so we’ll likely see more beautiful foliage over a longer period of time, but maybe less of a uniform color,” Royte said. “I wouldn’t say that climate change necessarily harms our experience with foliage, but it definitely changes it.”
The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s foliage report predicts that summer 2021 weather conditions will lead to an excellent foliage season this fall. The coast of Maine generally reaches peak season from mid-October to the end of October.
Here is a list of three places recommended by local coastal region parks and conservation organizations:
Bradbury Mountain State Park, Pownal
Located just under 500 feet above sea level, Bradbury Mountain in Pownal is a geographic landmark in the middle of the coast that offers excellent views of the foliage.
“The fall foliage season is truly the busiest time of year in Bradbury,” said park superintendent Chris Silsbee. “It’s an easy mountain to climb with fantastic views from the top that you can see down to the ocean, and you can see some great views of the fall colors.”
Last year, the park welcomed just under 100,000 visitors, of which 40%, according to Silsbee, came during leaf season. The entire state park is approximately 800 acres and includes 29 miles of trails.
Silsbee said he recommends the Northern Loop, an easy mile-long trail that takes you to the top with two lookouts along the way. For the descent, Silsbee said the Tote Road offers some great color inside the park as well.
Deer, owls and hawks are among the wildlife seen in Bradbury, Silsbee said, and a camping option is available. The park is open from 9 a.m. to sunset.
Berry Woods Reserve, Georgetown
Berry Woods Preserve in Georgetown is another great local option for foliage enthusiasts, according to The Nature Conservancy.
The 377 acre reserve includes 7,450 feet of shoreline on Robinhood Cove, the Kennebec River and Wilson Pond.
According to Royte, in addition to maple trees, the reserve also includes various native shrubs and plants that change color with the seasons and contribute to the foliage.
“From my point of view, what makes viewing enjoyable in a place to go to see the foliage is where there is a diversity of habitats,” Royte said. “You will see salt marshes where the salt marsh grasses take on that golden color, especially towards the end of the day or early in the morning when the sunlight is low. It is spectacular.
According to The Nature Conservancy’s website, the reserve also includes a former mine and is connected to an additional 1,300 acres of protected land. The trails are open from sunrise to sunset for foot traffic only and pets are not allowed. Fishing and hunting are permitted.
Crystal Spring Farm, Brunswick
The Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust recommends Crystal Spring Farm, a 321-acre property off Pleasant Hill Road in Brunswick.
“This is our most visited reserve, but for good reason,” said Margaret Gerber, director of stewardship of Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust. “There are five miles of trails going in and out of the fields, giving you a great vantage point to look back and see the treeline against the field.”
Gerber recommended walking on the south side of the trail system, which leads visitors through the barren 21-acre blueberry area that looks like a mix of pine, beech, maple and oak foliage. An active 100-acre farm also allows visitors to view the crops during the fall harvest season.
“The leaves that turn at this time of year are a time when a lot of people slow down and think,” Gerber said. “This is a great time to reconnect with the difference and the impact the trails have had on your own life. “
The land is also great for bird watching, Gerber said. Dogs are allowed on a leash. Bow hunting is permitted on the grounds and Gerber encouraged visitors to wear orange.
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