Before the fall: Dry summer has leaves turning a bit earlier this year

Max Bakke

Perhaps a little ahead of schedule, trees alongside the 38-mile stretch of scenic highway Route 169 are showing a little color these days.

Terry Lavoie of Windham said her 20-mile commute to her job at the Connecticut Audubon Society in Pomfret was especially wonderful after Tuesday's rain, and put her in an autumnal mood.

"A beautiful maple leaf fell on my car and I remember thinking 'oh, wow - that's wonderful,'" she said, adding this is her favorite time of year. "You get the cool, crisp air in the morning and it makes you feel fall all over."

WFSB Channel 3 Meteorologist Mark Dixon said the third driest August on record in Connecticut may be a reason for the foliage's early arrival this year. In all, he said, the state is marginally behind the average rainfall for the year so far.

"Coming off a dry August would have some influence in early foliage," he said. "Because we've been a little drier, it could mean it (foliage) may come sooner. We're about 7 inches drier at this point than last year."

Dixon said peak foliage season occurs typically around Columbus Day weekend.

Temperature also can affect when leaves begin to change color, Dixon said, but despite a few hot, humid stretches - temperatures were not well above average this year.

"We did not have any 100-degree days," he said.

John Wolchesky of Pomfret, who owns Lapsley Orchard on Route 169, agrees and said Columbus Day weekend typically is his peak season also. The apples and pumpkins are at their ripest and it's the time - he says - most folks come from all over to "slow down" on his horse-drawn hay rides.

"Daily life runs at such a fast pace," he said. "But on the farm it's a much slower pace. When you get on the hay ride and it's going slow - you finally get to take a breath."

"It's a unique thing that we have here in New England," Wolchesky said of the foliage, "and it brings the people out."

Whereas summer months bring tourists to the Connecticut coast, according to Donna Simpson, executive director for the Mystic County/ Eastern Connecticut Tourism District, fall gives families and couples an opportunity to enjoy the charm of Eastern Connecticut against a lush, multi-color backdrop.

"Adults can come do a romantic weekend, some high-end dining, those kinds of things," she said. "Fall is that last hurrah to be outside, get red cheeks and get outside of the city where foliage is not something you see every day."

"It's a clean, pure, fill-up-your-lungs experience," she said.

Reach Max Bakke of The Norwich (Conn.) Bulletin at 917-8151 or mbakke@norwichbulletin.com.