ELLSWORTH, Maine — The remnants of Hurricane Irene and other recent storms may have dislodged some loose leaves, but the wet weather isn’t expected to hurt Maine’s fall foliage season.
Or at least that’s the hope as businesses catering to tourists transition from summer visitors to leaf peepers.
Although the strong winds that accompanied Irene last week caused some tree damage around the state, they were not as destructive as feared. And the recent heavy rains actually could help trees still stressed from an unusually hot and dry July.
“I think we are going to be right on target to deliver another beautiful show,” said Gale Ross, who coordinates the Maine Department of Conservation’s foliage watch program.
The department will launch the 2011 foliage reports on Wednesday, Sept. 14, as a way for the public to track the progress of the changing colors of Maine’s trees. Forest rangers throughout the state supply up-to-date reports on the foliage conditions in the state, which is broken down into seven regions. The reports are then posted on www.mainefoliage.com.
Bill Ostrofsky, a plant pathologist with the Maine Forest Service, noted that some maple trees have been affected by a fungus that is causing leaves to develop spots or fall prematurely. Norway maples, a non-native type of maple typically planted in towns as an ornamental tree, are perhaps hardest hit by the fungus.
But Ostrofsky said that while the fungal outbreaks — likely linked to a wet spring — may cause the crowns of individual maple trees to appear somewhat thinner than usual, the fungi should not have a noticeable effect on the bigger views that leaf peepers seek.
In fact, thanks to the recent rains, the leaves that made it through the wind storms appear healthy and dark green, he said. The big factor will be what happens weatherwise in the next several weeks, especially if additional storms move up the Eastern Seaboard.
“There is always a chance that there might be some problem,” Ostrofsky said. “It would be nice to have some crisp weather. That always speeds things along.”
As usual, some red maple trees located near swampy areas already are beginning to display their fall colors, as are some ash trees. But Ostrofsky said he expects to see a fairly typical fall foliage season.
Although best known as a summer tourism hot spot, Maine has developed a thriving fall tourism season. The relatively short fall season accounts for roughly 30 percent of visitors to the state, according to surveys conducted for the Maine Office of Tourism.
So strong fall foliage forecasts would be welcome news for businesses, said Carolann Ouellette, director of the state tourism office.
“It’s a strong season,” Ouellette said.