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Leaf colors peak in foothills, move into Piedmont

Last weekend’s frost and freezing conditions across the Carolinas sent the process of leaf color changes into overdrive.

After a slow start to the season and some uneven conditions in the mountains, observers say the color show has developed quickly in North Carolina’s foothills. And the show is moving rapidly into some parts of the Piedmont.

Trees are losing their leaves at altitudes above 3,500 feet, where autumn is starting to look more like winter.

It apparently has been a hit-or-miss situation this fall. Appalachian State University professor Howie Neufeld said colors were spectacular in places around Boone. The same report is coming this weekend from the Asheville area.

But reader Lou Nachman reported that the reds quickly turned to brown earlier in the week in Ashe and Alleghany counties. Nachman said the yellows were pretty, however.

With partial sunshine forecast Saturday and clear skies Sunday, this should be a good weekend to see the colors in Burke and Caldwell counties, in the northern Piedmont of North Carolina and in the South Carolina foothills.

The weekly report:

Northwest mountains: If you’re venturing into the high country, try the not-so-high locations, at 3,000 feet and lower. Some recommendations: N.C. 181, from Morganton into Pisgah National Forest; U.S. 221 near Marion; and U.S. 421 near Wilkesboro.

Asheville and west: The website Explore Asheville reports excellent conditions around the Biltmore Estate, especially with the sourwoods and sweet gums (oranges and reds). The Blue Ridge Parkway between the Folk Art Center and Tanbark Ridge also has reached peak conditions.

In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, peak colors are reported near Newfound Gap. Peak conditions have passed in higher elevations of Pisgah National Forest and the Smokies.

Foothills: Ranger Amanda Lasley reports vivid reds (sourwoods and black gums) and yellows (sycamores and maples) at South Mountains State Park in Burke County.

Chimney Rock is among the top spots this week. Matt Popowski, spokesman for Chimney Rock State Park, says, “Leaf colors seemed to have exploded the past few days.” He recommends Chimney Rock and Skyline Trail as places to visit.

Officials in Hendersonville also say that area is near peak conditions. DuPont State Forest in Henderson and Transylvania counties is the place to be, they say.

Piedmont: Peak conditions have arrived north of Winston-Salem at Pilot Mountain and Stone Mountain state parks. You’ll also find colors at about 70 percent near Raleigh, at Falls Lake and Kerr Lake.

Colors are about 50 to 60 percent at Morrow Mountain State Park and in the Uwharrie National Forest northeast of Charlotte.

Closer to Charlotte, peak colors are still about a week away.

South Carolina: Colors are 50 percent or more on S.C. 11, the Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway, north of Gaffney.

Elsewhere in Southeast: Virginia conditions are peaking in the Shenandoah Valley and in lower elevations near Wytheville.

Tennessee officials say conditions are excellent between 2,000 feet and 4,000 feet. And Georgia’s color show is peaking in the northeast mountains.

Lyttle: 704-358-6107 Twitter: @slyttle
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