The ideal formula for a bright, vivid assortment of fall leaf colors is warm, sunny days followed by cool nights.
Due to unseasonably hot temperatures and a lack of rainfall, however, some parts of the state may see less-than-vibrant fall colors this season, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
“We may miss some of the vibrant colors this year. It might be a lackluster year,” said Greg Heidebrink, the agency’s forester for north-central Iowa’s District 2, based in Charles City.
Just how lackluster, though, may well depend on which part of the state you’re looking at.
Northeast Iowa likely will see a stunning fall color show, which already is in full swing, according to the DNR’s weekly fall color report released last Monday.
“We’re definitely in fall color season,” said Bruce Blair, DNR area forester at Yellow River State Forest near Harpers Ferry. “It seems like things are happening a little bit sooner than normal, but I would say we’re going to have a nice fall color season.”
Blair said visitors still can see peak fall foliage there through Saturday.
In other parts of the state, the unusually high temperatures paired with drought conditions are causing leaves to turn brown prematurely and some trees to drop foliage early.
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The U.S. Drought Monitor shows nearly 70 percent of the state is experiencing dry conditions. They’re worst in south-central Iowa.
“We were getting a lot of early leaf drop because of the drought,” said Randy Goerndt, the DNR forester in Iowa’s south-central District 11, based in Creston.
The DNR fall color report predicts central and southern areas in Iowa will see peak colors between the second and third week of this month, most likely by Oct. 20. This is about a week ahead of last year’s peak, said Jeremy Cochran, area forester for District 7 based in Chariton, also in south central Iowa.
Hundreds flock each fall to tour the state’s scenic byways and view the seasonal change.
Despite the less than perfect conditions, Terri Lindley, receptionist for the Allamakee County Economic Development and Tourism office, said county officials still expect plenty of travelers.
She said they may come for the trees, but attractions such as shops, orchards and pumpkin patches make them stay.
Shawna Lode, a manager for the Iowa Tourism Office, said her office conducted a pre-trip survey as a part of the online order form for the Iowa Travel Guide. In 2016, 21.5 percent of people who took that survey said they planned to travel in September or October, she said.
According to the Iowa Tourism Office, domestic travel spending in Iowa totaled $8.1 billion and 15 of the state’s 99 counties received more than $100 million each in domestic travel expenditures in 2015. It’s unclear how much tourism revenue is specifically during the fall season.
Tourism brought $40 million to Allamakee County last year, thanks to the more than 40,000 visitors to Yellow State River Forest and an additional 80,000 to Effigy Mounds National Monument, said Val Reinke, executive director of the county’s economic development and tourism office.
Reinke said her office also doesn’t collect data specifically for the fall color season.
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