Fall foliage in Blair Township near Silver Lake is shown from an aerial photo Thursday afternoon.

TRAVERSE CITY — Shorter days and cooler nights? Check.

Pumpkin spice-flavored everything and fun-size candy in the grocery stores? Check and check.

Photogenic foliage everywhere you look? Well... it depends.

North of Harbor Springs, Pond Hill Farm co-owner Marcy Spencer said fall colors are just starting to really pop, and she figures they’re about a week out from their peak. That’s sure to bring even more sight-seers down M-119’s winding stretch south of Cross Village known as the Tunnel of Trees.

“People love to drive the Tunnel of Trees in the fall,” she said.

She’s also expecting the fall colors to bring more people into the farm’s market, cafe, brewery, winery and petting zoo.

A few hours south in Cadillac, the Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau’s leaf level meter is on level 3, and bureau Executive Director Kathy Morin said she’s expecting it to top out at level 5 in the next seven to 10 days.

“It’s weird, because it’s kind of variable throughout our region,” she said. “Closer into town, we’re seeing some more color, but a bit farther out of town it’s still not quite there yet.”

Quickly scan the foliage around Traverse City, and it’s plain to see that while some trees are tinted yellow or red, many are still partially or totally green (and not just the pines).

Thank the lake effect for that. According to Jillian Manning, writing for Traverse City Tourism, fall color changes start inland and work their way towards the coast. That’s because of Lake Michigan’s moderating effects on the temperature.

Temperature is one cue behind the color change, with longer nights being the major factor, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Leaves stop producing chlorophyll, the compound that makes them green and absorbs sunshine, as they get less and less light. Trees form a layer of cells between their branches and leaves, cutting off the flow of nutrients between leaf and tree.

With no chlorophyll, the caroteniods in leaves already but blotted out by chlorophyll start to appear. These compounds make yellow and orange colors, while trapped sugars in the leaves combine with them to form red-hued anthocyanin.

All that chemistry can make for quite a show, with warm, sunny days and cool but not freezing nights making for the best displays, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

It has been a busy fall in Cadillac, Morin said — the 16 lodging spots in the visitors bureau’s assessment district are booked solid for this past weekend and several are already booked out for the Oct. 16-17 weekend as well.

That’s even with fall favorites like the Steam Railroading Institute’s fall color train rides and the Cadillac Craft Beer Festival being canceled this year, Morin said.

“It’s been really very busy with a lot of people engaging in outdoor activities and that kind of thing,” she said.


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