Looking For Color In The Smokies

By: Mike McCarthy
By: Mike McCarthy

Knoxville (WVLT) -- Odds are the drought dried up your lawn this summer, but what you might not have realized, is that it may have dried up the color in the Great Smoky Mountains.

The reason according to park officials is because droughts usually cause leaves to brown and fall off earlier than normal.

On Sunday, we went up in the Smokies, where the color is still there, if you know where to look.

One thing to remember is that the park is the most visited national park in the nation, drawing visitors not only from across the nation, but also at home in the Volunteer State.

Mary-Kate Allen hails from Memphis and she pulled into the park over the weekend with a camera in hand.

The only problem was that she didn't get the view she expected through its lens.

"I was was hoping the color's would be different," she said, "that's the whole point in coming up here."

In the second week of October, there is still one color in no short supply.

"It's still a little green for me," Allen said.

The same 13-inch rain deficit that took away water from fishers might also take away the color from the mountains she loves.

"At this time of year, what we're seeing is the average," said Park Ranger Daniel Mole. "We're still probably one to one and half weeks out from seeing a lot more color change."

But for every colored-coated tree, there seemed to be a tree with no leaves at all.

"There's going to be an impact," Mole said, "but what that is, is hard to say at this point."

The ranger did admit that there is color in the park, including Fall flavors of red and yellow.

But to see them you have to get up to 45,000.

"In the upper elevations, that's where we're seeing it right now," Mole said. "You're supposed to see those early."

Right now, you'll find plenty of leaves already on the ground, but the drought's only one of the factors that put them here.

"Number one is the amount of daylight available for these trees as that gets shorter," Mole said. "Precipitation and temperatures are the other two factors."

If the leaves keep dropping, the park says their 5,000 visitors-a-day average won't.

"Visitation is up," the ranger said. "We're equal to and plus what we were getting in July of the summer months. It's a heavy time."

And visitors say the colors aren't all that matter.

"I still enjoy the scenery," said John Cate, a weekend visitor to the park. "I don't have to have a lot of color to have a good time up here."

Mary-Kate Allen is already planning a trip back next month.

"I love it up here," she said.

Because they all believe the drought could never dry up the view.

Park officials expect the leaves in lower elevations near Knoxville to start turning sometime this week.

For an update on how the leaves are doing, you can click on the link below.


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