Greens to yellows to reds: Vermont foliage is in full effect

By ANNA WOOD

BENJY RENTON
Fall foliage is in full swing in mid-October. Many locals stress that Middlebury students and staff should take advantage of the fall colors by hiking, visiting other towns in the county or brushing up on different species of trees. Walking around the Breadloaf Wilderness (pictured above) is a great example of how to enjoy fall foliage before the leaves fall later this month.

Midterms are in full swing, fall break is right around the corner and Vermont’s renowned peak foliage has hit. The season is here, and with it comes brilliant bursts of color that define fall in New England. The Green Mountains show their seasonal red hue and blazing leaves wash the trees with a fiery touch. 

Where can students find the best glimpse of fall? Middlebury’s landscape horticulturist Tim Parsons vouches for Snake Mountain.

“It should be a graduation requirement for all students to hike Snake Mountain, if able,” he said. Aside from this staple hike, Parsons recommended Bristol Cliffs and Mount Abraham.

For those staying on campus over break, Vermont Mountain’s Sports and Life ranks Hunger Mountain in Waterbury and Mad River Glen in Waitsfield as two of the top nine Vermont hikes for fall foliage.

Students can even appreciate the stunning scenery without lifting a finger. “Middlebury is a gorgeous campus with really beautiful trees!” Parsons said.

Indeed, Middlebury has seen scattered sights of foliage since mid-September. Although trees turn their leaves at various rates, early foliage is a sign of environmental stress. The first trees to turn are typically stressed or hurt.

“Even the top of that really big tree, there, that’s really stressed,” Parsons said, pointing to a particularly bright yellow tree by McCullough Student Center. “It’s my job to read trees.” The black maple tree species produces a radiant red tone that is crucial to Vermont fall. Black maples thrive in cold weather, whereas oak trees, with their dull, muted gold, are more apparent in areas south of Vermont. According to Parsons’ active social media presence, black maple trees’ peak foliage occurred about a week earlier this year than last.

“I posted almost that exact same picture last year, but a week or two earlier,” he said of his recent Instagram photo. “Two to three weeks ago, when I was seeing trees turn, that to me was a really bad sign.”

According to Parsons, foliage has also been affected by the wet weather throughout the past year. Persistent wetness has led to leaf spots, mildew and diseases. Although the difference goes unnoticed, the leaves are ridden with spots that stay brown rather than turn color.

Parsons, however, is not concerned for the foliage in upcoming years. Global climate change hasn’t disturbed the foliage quite yet, as foliage is prompted by daylight rather than temperature. As daylight becomes shorter, chlorophyll production slows, making way for the carotenoids that produce foliage colors.

That’s not to say foliage avoids responding to climate change altogether. “In the grand scheme of things, global warming might affect foliage in the long run,” Parsons said.

Environmental changes have degraded the quality of peak foliage this year. But to the bare eye, these minimal effects have not yet manifested to disrupt the spectacular fall views. Vermonters should enjoy them while they last, both in the short and long term.

“I’m saying leaves aren’t as good this year, but wow, they’re still great,” Parsons said.

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