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Warm weather delays fall colors in the Carolinas

This week’s warm weather has delayed the change of leaf colors in the Carolinas, and you’ll have to go into the higher altitudes to get the best show, experts say.

Leaves are nearing peak colors above 4,000 feet, but trees in many of the lower altitudes remain green this weekend.

Experts say the big change in colors likely will take place during the next seven to 14 days, with some of the more popular mountain locales reaching peak conditions later next week.

The best place this weekend for leaf-viewing will be near Grandfather Mountain State Park.

Here are some reminders for people headed to the mountains this week, given the federal government shutdown:

• The Blue Ridge Parkway is open, but all visitor centers and picnic areas are closed. Hiking trails are open.

• Facilities also are closed at Pisgah National Forest, although the hiking trails are open.

• Park roads are closed at Great Smoky Mountain National Park, but U.S. 441 is open through the park.

• The Carolinas’ state parks are open and operating normally.

Here is the weekly report:

•  Northwest mountains: Colors are very good between Grandfather Mountain and Blowing Rock, especially above 3,500 feet. Color change is around 50 percent at Mount Mitchell.

Howie Neufeld of Appalachian State University says sugar and red maples are nearing their peak around Grandfather Mountain. He says the mountain ash colors are “quite spectacular this year.”

Neufeld recommends the east-facing slopes around Grandfather Mountain, and the area near Roan Mountain (North Carolina-Tennessee border) and Elk Knob State Park north of Boone. Peak colors in Boone are still a week away, he says.

•  Western mountains: Neufeld suggests higher areas of the Smokies this weekend. And Mark File of RomanticAsheville.com says most leaves remain green in that area, with recent warm weather slowing the color change. He suggests visiting areas above 3,500 feet next week.

•  Foothills: There are color changes near the top of Pilot Mountain State Park north of Winston-Salem. Tulip poplars are brightly colored, and some sourwoods and dogwoods have turned red. Peak colors remain two to three weeks away, however.

•  Piedmont: Leaves are still mostly green, with color changes likely beginning in some areas next week but not reaching peak until late in October.

•  South Carolina: Peak color changes in the foothills area north of Greenville-Spartanburg remain a few weeks away.

•  Elsewhere in the Southeast: The change is coming rather slowly. Some color changes are being reported in the Beckley area of West Virginia and near Buchanan, Va., along Interstate 81. But it’s still too early in most of Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee.

Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle
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