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An early autumn?

Lu Snyder

SUMMIT COUNTY – This summer’s lackluster tourist season might end early if the aspen trees turn yellow prematurely.

Already, some trees around the county are showing signs of yellow, and tree experts say it’s likely the drought will cause the trees to turn color and lose their leaves earlier this year.

Normally, Colorado’s golden season is initiated by shorter days and cooler nights, said Mike Liu, assistant district ranger for the Dillon Ranger District, White River National Forest. The tree slowly seals the connection between the leaf and branch so the leaves can fall off. As the chlorophyll in each leaf dies, it exposes the other pigments such as yellow and orange, he said.

In drought years such as this, however, leaves might react to the lack of water before the shorter days and cool nights set in. According to Liu, the tree is, in essence, saying it does not have enough water to sustain the leaves, so the same process may begin earlier in which the leaves are sealed off from the tree.

It’s called moisture stress among experts, Liu said. And that can cause trees to lose their leaves up to several weeks earlier than normal.

How does that affect the tourists coming in search of gold?

Candi Hoy, lead reservationist at the Summit County Chamber of Commerce’s guest assistant center, said she hasn’t had many calls about the autumn colors yet. Usually, Hoy recommends tourists plan their visits around the third week in September to enjoy the trees’ colors.

“But we can never predict what Mother Nature can do,” Hoy said, adding she noticed some aspen already turning color as she was driving on Interstate 70 recently.

In years when the season comes early, those in the tourist industry adapt.

“You just go with the flow,” Hoy said. “We try to be honest with people, not negative.”

Instead of predicting the peak weekend, Hoy said she refers tourists to the forest service for specifics.

But if tourists arrive after the leaves have fallen, Hoy said she points out the brighter side of Summit County with naked trees – little traffic, no lines and often two-for-one deals at the restaurants.

Liu said some trees might react to this year’s lack of water by simply dropping their leaves, without the traditional yellow period. But he seems confident there will be colors this year, despite the drought.

“Generally, they’re not all going to turn brown and fall off,” Liu said. “That’s not really what I’m seeing.”

Liu said it’s too early to know when this year’s peak season will be, as it depends on a number of factors, including temperatures and moisture.


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