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Along Iowa's scenic byways, nature's fall splendor nears peak

Next few weekends will be time to see and enjoy the fall colors

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This is a good time to read about fall color. The next two weekends will be much better for actually seeing and enjoying it, according to Department of Natural Resources forester Bruce Blair.

“The fall foliage is spectacular in northeast Iowa every year. There, that’s my economic development speech,” said Blair, who manages the 8,900 acres of soon-to-be-colorful trees in the Yellow River State Forest in Allamakee County.

Blair said that “strong hints of color” have been appearing in individual trees and in such autumn “early birds” as sumac and Virginia creeper.

“It’s a little bit early yet, but we’re getting there. I think this season will be about average for color intensity, onset and duration,” he said.

The cool nights and sunny days that prevailed last week have been ideal for fostering the transition from green to red and gold, he said.

Those colors will be especially welcome at the end of a wet summer that has kept grass, leaves, crops and even weeds consistently green.

“Too much green. I’m tired of green,” said Blair, a connoisseur of fall color.

Blair said if he were limited to one day to enjoy fall color in northeast Iowa, he would choose Oct. 5 — or this Wednesday — which is typically at or close to the peak in Northern Iowa.

Peak colors progress from north to south, with best viewing in the central third of the state during the middle of October and in southern Iowa during the month’s latter half.

Blair said the Yellow River State Forest offers spectacular views from several roadside overlooks. But when he really wants to indulge, Blair said he drives along the Mississippi River.

The Great River Road National Scenic Byway, which parallels the river for 328 miles in Iowa, is hard to beat, he said.

The Great River Road, he said, features many species of trees, vertical relief that showcases lots of trees rather than the edge of a forest and a microclimate that encourages trees to retain their leaves longer.

The reflection of colorful trees on the river’s surface can double viewers’ pleasure, he said.

Not surprisingly, Edith Pfeffer, who chairs the Iowa Mississippi River Parkway Commission, emphatically seconds Blair’s recommendation.

“Start up north and work your way south with the season. Anywhere along the way you will see wonderful sights,” said Pfeffer of Clinton, who specifically mentioned the views from Mount Hosmer in Lansing, Effigy Mounds National Monument north of Marquette, Pikes Peak State Park south of McGregor, Bellevue State Park near Bellevue and Eagle Point Park in Clinton.

“Those are just high points. It’s a beautiful drive anywhere you want to go,” she said.

Fall color is also abundant along Iowa’s nine state scenic byways, according to Mallory Marlatt, who coordinates the Grant Wood Scenic Byway in Jones County and the Delaware Crossing Scenic Byway in Delaware County.

Some of her favorite fall vantages, she said, include Goeken Park overlooking the Fayette County community of Eldorado, the drive into Clermont on Highway 18 from West Union, the north overlook in Bellevue State Park above Bellevue and Lock and Dam 12 and the drive along Highway 38 between Delhi and Hopkinton.

Jessica Rilling, executive director of Iowa Valley Resource Conservation and Development, said the Iowa Valley Scenic Byway offers many scenic views of the Iowa River valley.

Rilling said she looks forward each fall to driving the “Czech Trail” between Chelsea and Vining, Highway 151 from Amana to Homestead and along 220th Trail south of South Amana.

For more information on scenic byways, visit iowabyways.org.

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