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Pennsylvania primes for impressive autumn leaves display

| Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012, 8:54 p.m.

Some “leaf peepers” drive for hours to take in expansive vistas of nature's fall palette in Southwestern Pennsylvania, while some residents on the ridges and hills of Westmoreland County only have to look out their windows.

“We're going to have a really beautiful fall. You can already see it out there now,” said Dave Planinsek, a forester with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

The Bureau of Forestry releases a fall foliage report for the state every week from late September through October.

For the Laurel Highlands, including eastern Westmoreland County, the latest report said leaves would reach their fullest color sometime between last week and today.

For the eastern parts of Westmoreland County, the peak is expected this week.

“Get out and enjoy the colors before they're gone,” said Julie Donovan, marketing and public relations director for the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau. “There are dozens of unique ways to view the fall foliage.”

Donovan recommends driving the Laurel Highlands Scenic Byway, Routes 711 and 381 stretching from Seward through Ligonier and Donegal south to the West Virginia line.

Other ways to see the yellow, red and orange maples as well as yellow, bronze and russet oaks mentioned in the forestry bureau report are by riding an aerial zip line at Seven Springs Resort in Somerset County, taking a horseback ride at Horizon View Farms in Somerset County, visiting Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater in Fayette County or biking the Great Allegheny Passage trail, she said.

“Without question, the fall foliage is a main attraction” for the area at this time of year, Donovan said.

Shorter days with the onset of autumn affect deciduous trees' colors and their peak times, said Tony Quadro, a forester with the Westmoreland Conservation District.

“The day length triggers the photosynthesis process to slow down,” he said.

Clear, bright days and low but not freezing temperatures help produce the best foliage.

Chlorophyll, the green pigment responsible for photosynthesis, breaks down and gives way to the other colors, Quadro said.

Leaves can drop off early without rain, but hard, windy storms can also cause them to fall, he said.

“It's kind of a way for the trees to conserve water,” Quadro said.

Planinsek said the state's topography makes for interesting colors and patterns.

“Pennsylvania is really blessed with the amount of forests we have and the diversity,” he said.

Once the leaves have fallen, festivals and events celebrating Halloween are right around the corner, Donovan said.

“Even if the bright colors are gone, it's still crisp, cool, and there are a ton of things to do through October,” she said.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or