Autumn rolls into W. Maryland on a wave of crimson and orange Extravaganza of color will continue eastward across state


Thinking about driving into the country to see some fall colors?

Head west -- far west to the mountains of Garrett and Allegany counties, where maples and oaks are exploding in hues of crimson and orange, creating a breathtaking array of fall fireworks.

Autumn foliage in the state's two most western counties will peak within the next week, tourism and others familiar with the season say.

Wait a bit, though, if you don't want to drive so far. Working eastward across Maryland, state and county tourism spokesmen advise that colors will peak by mid-month in Frederick and Washington counties and by the end of the month in Southern Maryland and on the Eastern Shore.

"You can see color anywhere in Garrett now. We're in the mountains, and the whole area is scenic," says Diane Wolfe, executive director of the Deep Creek Lake-Garrett County Promotion Council. "The leaves are changing now, and we expect colors to be at their peak by next week."

Just in time for the annual Autumn Glory Festival, which celebrates -- what else? -- fall colors and draws about 50,000 people to Oakland, the county seat, for a pa

rade; a storytelling festival; and country, bagpipe and gospel concerts and as well as antiques and arts and crafts.

This Saturday and Sunday, another celebration of fall colors, the Catoctin Colorfest, takes place closer to the population centers of Baltimore and Washington -- at the foot of the Catoctin Mountains in Thurmont, Frederick County.

Expect crowds. Some 100,000 people show up to take nature walks and buy handmade crafts and homemade foods.

"We usually have beautiful fall foliage. I think that is a big draw," said Bev Zienda, president of Catoctin

Colorfest Inc., the nonprofit group that sponsors the popular event. "But they won't be at their peak time. They're a little bit late this year. It's still kind of green around here."

Weather has nothing to do with the fall change of colors, state Department of Natural Resources officials say. And there's no predicting how spectacular fall displays will be.

Leaves change color as autumn progresses, sap-flow slows and chlorophyll, the chemical that gives leaves their green color, disappears. Warm sunny days and cool nights help trap some of the sugar in leaves that result in brilliant reds.

The best way to keep tabs on fall colors is to call the state's Fall Foliage Hot Line, a toll-free service available for the first time this season. The line provides weekly update on color changes and fall-related events.

"We estimate that over 40 percent of the travelers to Maryland come during the fall months," said Marilyn Corbett, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development. "There's a strong interest in fall travel, particularly in seeing leaves turn."

L Travelers don't have to leave the interstates to see colors.

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tainous. Sideling Hill [on Interstate 68] is the gateway to Allegany County, and from that point on it's all pretty breathtaking," says Natalie Chabot, manager of the Allegany County Visitors Bureau in Cumberland.

Among the popular spots for seeing colors in Allegany County is Green Ridge State Forest.

Park rangers provide visitors with maps showing 30 miles of dirt and gravel roads among 40,000 acres of white oak, dogwood, black walnut, shagbark hickory, red maple and sassafras trees. Colors range from lavender to reddish brown to yellow and orange.

"I expect this weekend and the next two weekends will be the best time to see different colors," said Debbie Feuti, clerk at the forest.

Ask Maryland Forester John Riley where the best spots for color, and he will mention Herrington Manor, New Germany and Savage River state parks, all in Garrett County.

"Herrington Manor and New Germany state parks offer thrilling con

trasts of maples and cherry set against the green conifers and reflected in blue lakes," Mr. Riley said.

His favorite spot, though, is reached by following a dirt road through Savage River State Forest, north of U.S. 40, toward Keysers Ridge.

"It is my favorite place in Maryland, with oak trees, maple and poplar and hollows filled with hemlock, beech and cherry," he said. Colors are barely showing in Washington and Frederick counties, tourism officials there report.

"We don't have a whole lot of color right now," says Bob O'Connor, director of the Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"The number one call we get is people asking what day the colors change. It's usually in late October, but it's hard to say."

Mr. O'Connor suggests that later in the month, tourists drive along Route 67 between Boonsboro and Harpers Ferry, W.Va., and Route 77 between Thurmont and Smithsburg.

"Those roads are spectacular when colors hit their peak," he said.

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