PARKERSBURG - It appears West Virginia is in for a colorful fall, although changes may occur sooner and more quickly than in past years.
Craig Minton, a forester with the West Virginia Division of Forestry, said the past summer's high temperatures may bring about foliage changes earlier than expected, with some trees already starting to lose their leaves.
"We think there will be good color, but it may happen a little sooner," he said.
The scientific reason for the color changes is a process called photoperiodism. As the sun moves farther south, the hours of daylight shorten and the temperatures fall, causing leaves to cease production of chlorophyll, the chemical that colors leaves green. As the chlorophyll disappears, the underlying colors of the leaves are unmasked. The next strongest pigment becomes dominant giving the leaves a "new" color.
With nearly 80 percent of the state covered by forests, West Virginia is one of the most tree-packed states in the country, next to Maine and New Hampshire. The varied topography in West Virginia provides a fall color show that begins in late September in the most mountainous and highest-elevated areas and continues through October in the lower-lying areas and Ohio River basins.
For those looking for the best show, the Division of Forestry provides weekly reports of the best fall foliage areas in the state and recommends scenic routes for picturesque trips. The reports are posted on the Division of Forestry website at www.wvforestry.com and on the Division of Tourism website at www.wvtourism.com.
In past years, West Virginia tourism officials have identified 23 byways and backways which offer picturesque glimpses into the state's history and natural beauty, with two of those located in the Mid-Ohio Valley.
Spanning the width of the state, the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike National Scenic Byway witnessed some of the great Civil War battles that determined the future of western Virginia. Begun in 1838, the turnpike followed Indian paths from Staunton, Va., to the Ohio River port at Parkersburg.
The Little Kanawha Byway is described as the most accessible of West Virginia's byways, with Interstate 77 at one end and I-79 at the other. The parkway begins in Mineral Wells and mirrors the banks of the Little Kanawha River.
The Little Muskingum Fall Foliage Tour and Antique Engine Show will be 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Oct. 13 and noon-5 p.m. Oct. 14 along Ohio 26 in eastern and northeastern Washington County.
Sponsored by the Little Muskingum Watershed Association, the self-driving tour will feature stops along Ohio 26 and also features the historic covered bridges along the route, including Hills Covered Bridge, Hune Covered Bridge, Rinard Covered Bridge and others.
The Little Muskingum Watershed Festival will be held near the Rinard Covered Bridge in Ludlow Township and will include garden tractor and tractor pulls, a hog roast, kid pedal tractor pulls and other events both days.
Elsewhere in the the West Virginia/Ohio Region, in southeast Ohio is becoming known for offering colorful fall foliage at Hocking Hills, which now offers a trio of aerial ways for visitors to experience autumn views. Those include hot air ballooning, air tours by Cessna and by zipline.
The Hocking Hills area also offers classic horse-drawn wagon rides at Lake Hope State Park every Saturday from Oct. 10-31. There area also foliage train rides on the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway beginning Oct. 1.
October also gives visitors two free organized scenic fall foliage hikes from which to choose. On Oct. 13, the annual Grandma Gatewood Fall Color Hike takes visitors on the six-mile Grandma Gatewood trail, from Old Man's Cave to Cedar Falls and back, starting at 1 p.m. The three-mile Lake Hope Fall Hike begins at 10 a.m. Oct. 20 with a cup of sassafras tea and ends with bean soup and cornbread at Lake Hope Furnace.
More information about the Hocking Hills activities is available at www.1800Hocking.com or 1-800-Hocking (800-462-5464).