Missouri Department of Conservation foresters are predicting that 2009 will be a good year for autumn color. Sunny days and cool nights normally favor the development of vibrant fall foliage.
"The fall color is looking good so far, but it is always hard to tell what we will see," said Tim Smith, Roaring River State Park naturalist. "Usually when it is cooler and wetter, we see better color because there has not been as much environmental stress on the trees. When it is hotter and drier, we see more stress and less color."
Fall color traditionally begins when night-time lows fall into the 50s and 60s and trees stop producing green pigment. Sugars that are stored in leaves undergo chemical changes that result in a spectacular display of reds, oranges, yellows and browns.
Missouri's fall foliage peaks around mid-October. Recent heavy rains could flush pigments out of leaves, reducing local color. Fall foliage can also be impacted by strong winds, which can cause premature leaf drop.
Smith encourages local residents to visit Roaring River State Park or Sugar Camp Scenic Drive to view fall foliage.
"Many areas have good vistas where you can view the fall color," said Smith. "There are even good spots along Highways 76 and 112. Highway 248 could possibly have some good viewing spots as well."
Individuals who would like to get more up close and personal with fall foliage can attend the Roaring River Hills Wild Area Hike on Saturday, Oct. 24. Participants should gather at the Ozark Chinquapin Nature Center in Roaring River at 9 a.m.
"Bring water and snacks," said Smith. "We will be back around 2 p.m. Those participanting should wear comfortable hiking shoes, dress for the weather and bring their camera and binoculars along if they want."
The program will offer a four-mile hike that will lead participants from the Nature Center to one of the highest areas of the park. Hikers will have an opportunity to view fall foliage from a ridge located at 1,440-feet elevation.
"It is around a 300-foot climb," said Smith. "It is not an easy hike, but it is not an extremely difficult hike either. Participants just need to be able to ascend and descend 200- to 300-foot hills."
The hike will take participants through Roaring River's wild area and hickory forest. They will also visit the fire tower that was constructed by Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Company #1713 in the 1930s.
"Most people who visit the park walk by the natural areas, but they don't recognize them or get into them because they don't get off the trail," said Smith. "Those who participate in the hike will learn more about the natural areas than during their normal visit to the park."
For more information about the Roaring River Hills Wild Area Hike, call the Nature Center at 847-3742.