As our hemisphere starts its long, slow slide away from the sun’s rays, signs of autumn are everywhere. Still, it may take some driving to see more than the occasional splash of color this weekend, according to the latest fall foliage report from I Love New York.
The tourism marketing agency gets regular leaf color reports from spotters around the state, and its second report of the season, issued Wednesday, shows a trip to Schroon Lake is one of the closest options for vibrant vistas.
Eric Scheffel, a spokesman for I Love New York and head of the organization’s foliage program, said the Schroon Lake area is likely to be at 10 to 15 percent of peak color now.
Spotters in Indian Lake and Long Lake are expecting foliage to be about 25 percent of peak this weekend, and higher elevations are likely to be more vibrant, he said.
“So far, we are seeing some muted colors; it’s still early,” Scheffel said Wednesday. “I would say the peak in Saratoga County will be around mid-October. And, obviously, in the northern portions of Warren County and in the higher elevations, you’re going to be seeing peak in the next couple of weeks.”
The fall changes are a big deal, since there’s a lot of green in those reds, oranges and golds. Scheffel estimated the “leaf peeping” tourism season accounts for about 25 percent of New York’s annual tourism-related spending, which was about $53 billion last year.
“In recent years, we’ve seen more and more bus tours and tourists coming to our area to enjoy the foliage,” said Lake George Mayor Robert Blais. “And I think a lot of it also is because of the special events that various communities around us, including Lake George, put on.”
Among the events Blais cited were the Adirondack Balloon Festival (taking place this weekend in Glens Falls and Queensbury), the World’s Largest Garage Sale (Sept. 29-30 in Warrensburg) and a craft show in Lake George the same weekend as the garage sale. Such attractions give leaf-peepers something to do other than gaze at color-clad mountains, Blais said.
A strong leaf-peeping season would be a great way to finish one of the strongest summers for tourism Lake George has seen in years, he said.
“We flowed 3 million gallons more water through our water treatment plant this August than we did last August,” Blais said.
Water use is one of the ways the tourism-dependent community measures visitor traffic, although Blais cautioned the dry weather may have had more folks using lawn sprinklers than in years’ past.
There were other indicators of a strong summer, including an 8 percent increase in parking meter revenue, Blais said.
Going into the fall, more and more merchants in the village are keeping their operations going to cater to “shoulder-season” tourists, he said.
“When I first came here, back in the 1960s, I can recount that there used to be a huge party on Labor Day night, and all the workers and store owners would go to that party and celebrate the fact that they were closing up for the season,” Blais said. “The day after Labor Day, you’d be lucky if you found 60 percent of the stores open. Now, I’d say 90 percent of our stores will stay open past the Columbus Day weekend.”
The fall brings a different kind of visitor, with fewer families. But they range from outdoor sports enthusiasts to seniors on tour buses, according to Peter Aust, president and CEO of the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce.
As far as challenges, there’s the vibrancy of the leaves themselves. Foliage experts have varying opinions about how the hot, dry summer will affect colors this year.
Leaf-peepers are going to be forced to spend more at the pump. The point of leaf-peeping is to get out into the countryside and take in the views.
According to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report, the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline was $4.08 in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy region as of Wednesday. The Capital district is the nearest market for which AAA surveys gas prices.
That’s up from $3.76 per gallon a year ago, although Aust is hoping consumers will do the math on the difference.
“We’re trying to ensure people and send the message that, even if it’s a whole tank of gas away for your leaf-peeping trip, it’s only making a minimal difference in the cost of the tank of gas — $10 or less,” Aust said. “That shouldn’t deter anyone from coming to this beautiful area to see the foliage.”
Going forward, the end of the color and warmer weather is what signals the end of the larger tourism season and the start of the winter season, which brings in snow-sports enthusiasts, mainly.
Blais said Lake George visitors who come after the end of October will likely see just 20 percent of the village’s businesses open.
But that’s weeks away, and there’s still business to be done.
“I don’t know any reason why it would end just yet,” Blais said. “If we continue to have the weather we’ve had, this will be a remarkable year for Warren County.”