Were you waiting on the government? The leaves were waiting too

If you were waiting for the government shutdown to end before heading to the Blue Ridge Parkway to see North Carolina’s annual fall color show, don’t worry.

The leaves were waiting, too, and they’re reaching peak colors now at higher elevations.

Tourist officials in the high country say confusion about what was open or closed during the shutdown kept some tourists from heading to the mountains. But they say the leaf-changing process is behind schedule this year.

“The colors are really good right now,” says Amanda Lugenbell, assistant director of the Blowing Rock Visitors Center.

“The colors are flabbergasting,” adds Sheri Moretz, community relations manager for the Mast General Store chain, which is based near Boone. “And that’s coming from someone who lives here.”

The government shutdown that closed most federal facilities also hit campgrounds, picnic areas and visitors centers along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Privately owned stores and state parks remained open, but officials say potential tourists were confused.

However, the leaves are also taking their time changing colors. Experts disagree on the reason, with Appalachian State University’s Howie Neufeld attributing the late change to recent warm weather. Others cited the lack of rainfall since August.

Either way, the color show is on now.

“The coming weekend should be our peak leaf color times here in the Boone/Blowing Rock and Grandfather Mountain areas,” Neufeld says.

At lower elevations, such as Asheville and Chimney Rock, leaf colors will be vivid this weekend, but the peak is about a week away. That’s about seven to 10 days behind schedule, experts say. And it will be November before peak colors are seen in the Piedmont.

Lugenbell says the Blowing Rock area is “pretty much booked up this weekend.” The annual Woolly Worm Festival is scheduled in nearby Banner Elk, and the Valle Country Fair is on tap in Valle Crucis.

She agrees that there was confusion during the government shutdown.

“We had a lot of questions from people who wanted to know if the gates were open on the (Blue Ridge) parkway,” she says. “But all that is over now.”

Lugenbell says artists at the Parkway Craft Center, which was closed, “are ecstatic that it’s open again.”

Steve Moss, director of Western Carolina University’s Hospitality and Tourism Program, estimated that every day of the shutdown cost North Carolina about $1 million in consumer spending, much of that in tourism. But that appears likely to change, starting this weekend.

“This weekend will be well-visited up here,” Moretz says.

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