Tim Cordell is an interpretive naturalist at Potato Creek State Park. He has worked for DNR since 1978 at Potato Creek, McCormick’s Creek and Spring Mill State Parks. Tim plays an active role in the park’s resource management as well as running the nature center and park programming.
At the end of September and early October is when fall usually makes its first impressions on me. While fall may officially start on September 21 it’s when those first leaves start to display their glorious color that my mind says it’s fall. Others may associate the start of fall with football games, cool nights, back to school events and many other things, I’m sure a lot of us link it to the fall color. It’s now when the bulk of the leaves are still green that we can see the real contrast and possibilities of a brilliant fall display.
At Potato Creek there are a couple spots that offer those first glimpses year in and year out. My favorite spot is where the park road curves just east of the turn off into the family campground. As I’m heading into the nature center there is a cluster of sassafras trees in the outside of this curve positioned so they fill your field of view as you drive.
These sassafras trees are just starting to come alive with the brilliant yellows and blood oranges that sassafras is known for. It’s the ends of the branches and the tops of the trees that change first as the sun depletes the masking green chlorophyll. In the next few weeks the entire trees will be ablaze with color. The sassafras starts the display and then that curve eventually fills in with even more spectacular color as the sugar maples change.
Due to variance in the pigments and chemicals found in the different trees they will each turn certain colors in the fall. While sassafras typically turn orange and yellow, others such as the tulip may just turn butter yellow and the oaks shades of brown. A nice little hand out that lists some of these characteristic colors can be found here. This flier also gives some tips on how you can catch and keep the fall colors. Many of our State Parks & Reservoirs offer programs on the fall colors. A listing of those programs can be found here by the property name. Now is the perfect time to make a trip to your favorite natural area to get your first impression of fall 2011.