His name is Mike Snyder and he has a very important job. Every year, he helps to predict when the trees in heavily forested Vermont will hit their peak levels of glorious red and yellow. Officially he's the state's commissioner of forests, parks, and recreation, but unofficially he's the Vermont leaf forecaster, a job that helps drive about $460 million in annual tourism revenue as "leafers" descend on the state, cameras and wallets in hand.
NPR recently took a drive with Snyder, traveling some back roads in his green pickup truck, looking for signs of developing color. "See that hillside across the way out there," he asked Vermont Public Radio's Charlotte Albright. "It's kind of rimmed by spruce and pine ... and then this pocket of orange that's developing, that's very dense, looks like a very dense sugar maple stand that is turning nicely in kind of an early phase, in kind of a muted, more of a russet tone to it."
Every day Snyder's observations make their way onto Foliage Vermont, a website that features reports from around the state, color maps, photos, video and links to driving and bike tours, foliage festivals and places to stay. As he wrote on Sept. 26, the foliage is already at its peak in northeastern Vermont, but the colors are muted because there are too many clouds. Comments from others say the colors are becoming brilliant on the eastern side of the state while Windsor County to the west is just starting to see its leaves turn.
Vermont's site isn't the only place you can go to get reports on fall colors. The U.S. Forest Service runs a website covering fall foliage for the entire country. You can search the site by state or even by specific forests (for example, Vermont's Green Mountain National Forest). Each report comes with a local map of the colors as well as travel tips and forecasts. The service also offers a fall colors phone hotline: just call 800-354-4595 for audio updates on which areas and types of trees are at their peak.
"America's public lands, particularly our national forests, are among the most spectacular venues to view the changes in fall colors," said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said in a press release earlier this month.
The forest service says fall tourism is worth $8 billion every year in New England alone. Tourism Commissioner Megan Smith told NPR that this is one of the reasons why the state runs its own site, so they can better compete with other New England states for those valuable visitor dollars. "I'd like to say that money falls from trees at this time of year," she said.
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Your fall foliage guide: Where to go and when in all regions of the country