GRAY — Maine Forest Ranger Art Lavoie stopped his truck across Mayall Road from the Wood Farm, hopped out and looked around.

He spotted a few scarlet red maples, but green dominated the landscape.

“I’d say the color change is low,” Lavoie said as he filed a foliage report on his personal digital assistant.

Once a week, Lavoie and other forest rangers fan out across Maine to cast a critical eye on the state of the fall foliage. Their observations, part scientific but mostly seat-of-the-pants, are used to develop the report that’s issued on Wednesdays by the Department of Conservation on its foliage website, www.mainefoliage.com.

The colors are now close to peak in northern Maine and will move south through the state through October.

Lavoie demonstrated the art of fall foliage assessment Tuesday.

As he went about his day, largely in Androscoggin County, he made visual inspections at various locations, trying to determine how much of the canopy remained on trees and what percentage had reached the brilliant orange, flaming red and more subtle yellowish hues that are characteristic of New England’s famous peak foliage.

Lavoie said the reports are highly subjective; one forest ranger’s peak is another ranger’s past peak.

“I am looking for a mountainside all bright orange,” said Lavoie.

Foliage can vary markedly across each of the state’s seven designated zones. While the trees in Gray were just starting to turn on Tuesday, Fryeburg was reaching peak color on Monday, Lavoie said.

Lavoie uses the PDA to file his reports from various spots, along with photos of what he sees.

The information is collected by Gale Ross, coordinator of the foliage website. Ross calls the rangers to fill in any gaps.

“You have to make a generalization, come to a happy medium,” Ross said.

More than 1,000 people have visited the foliage website so far this year. the end of the season, the number will be much higher, she said.

Ross said the most popular leaf peeping destination appears to be Acadia National Park, based on the phone calls and e-mails she receives.

But Acadia, where pointed firs predominate, is far from the most colorful place.

The best places, she said, are where maples, oaks and other deciduous trees grow, such as the western hills and mountains.

Foliage season is big business in New England. Maine tourism officials say it accounts for a quarter of the state’s $5.3 billion-a-year tourism industry and a quarter of the 35 million tourists who descend on the state annually.

In Vermont, the foliage season accounts for about 23 percent of the state’s $1.6 billion-a-year tourism industry and 14.3 million tourists a year.

Fall foliage visitors drive around more than visitors do at other times of the year, said Steve Lyons, director of marketing for the Maine Office of Tourism.

The fall visitors tend to be older – empty nesters or childless – than visitors in the summer.

“They want to see small towns and scenic byways and Acadia National Park,” said Lyons.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Scenic Byways Program lists scenic byways in Maine online at www.byways.org/explore/states/ME/.

The color change comes as daylight shortens and the green chlorophyll in the leaves disappears.

Rainfall, sugar accumulation in the leaves, wind and bright, sunny, cool weather also affect the brilliance of the colors.

Lavoie said the foliage change from moderate to peak can be abrupt.

“One week, boom, it’s peak,” he said.

The state’s foliage reports will continue through Oct. 13.

 

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: [email protected]