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Feature Article about Fall Foliage In The Ozarks

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Compared: Ozarks Foliage To New England Foliage
written by Gary Cooley

I've spent many a fall in both Vermont and the Ozarks. Hard pressed to say which I enjoy the most, I'll describe the differences and let you decide which sounds best to you.

If we measure the beauty of the foliage itself on a scale of one to ten, New England peak foliage is a ten. Ozark foliage runs a seven or eight. The Ozarks are in a warmer climate zone so we don't get as much foliage-producing cooler weather.

New England has more sugar maple groves and white birch stands resulting in foliage displays with a higher density of brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows. In the Ozarks sugar maples are rarely found in stands of more than a few trees. I have seen few white birch in the Ozarks.

Mockernut hickory, a very common Ozark tree, turns brilliant yellow or orange. The reds, oranges, and yellows are just as brilliant in the Ozarks, there is just less of them. With fewer trees in one location the color pack is less dense. You will see some very interesting black foliage on Ozark gum trees, something I have not seen a great deal of in New England.

Hillside pastures turn a beautiful green in both the Ozarks and New England. The green serves as a beautiful framework for the foliage further up the hillside. Hills in New England are much higher than those in the Ozarks so you see more of the pasture/foliage color combo in New England.

Yet Ozark foliage offers a few things New England foliage does not. The American smoke tree, which is common in the Ozarks, has intense fluorescent pinks and oranges not found on any other tree in America. One of the oldest and largest smoke tree stands in America grows along the Glade Top Trail in the south central Ozarks near Ava, Missouri.

I enjoy the Ozarks understory foliage more than New England understory color. Dogwoods grow thick here, and they turn impressive reds, pinks, or even orange. Growing only about 20 feet high, they add color to the forest floor. Hickory saplings about 3 feet high have very large leaves which turn a deep orange or yellow. Several other understory trees and shrubs also turn brilliant colors. Walk a trail and you'll see a variety of bright color at eye level.

Fall weather is warmer in the Ozarks, which is one of the reasons our color does not develop as brilliantly as in New England. But for many, it is a nice trade-off. The foliage is still beautiful, and you can enjoy it in shirt sleeves. This also means you can enjoy a picnic without being chilly on most Ozark fall days.

Enjoying fall foliage entails more than just leaf-peeping. What's a cool fall day without stopping for fresh hot cider? I also enjoy fall events, like the tent art show held at the edge of town at Stowe, Vermont. There are art galleries, fine dinning, cafes, concerts, harvest festivals, and a long list of other social events and attractions all across New England, all linked into a common fall foliage spirit. You won't see as much of these events in the Ozarks.

Every year fall foliage tourism generates hundreds of millions of dollars for New England. Fall foliage in the Ozarks has never been promoted and commercialized to this level. Why? Simple logistics.

The New England fall foliage hotspots are all a sensible day's drive from huge population centers like New York City, Boston, Montreal, Albany, Concord, Hartford, Philadelphia, and the northeast coastline Megalopolis. Tens of millions of Americans live a sensible drive from many New England foliage attractions and events.

Far fewer people live a sensible driving distance from Ozark foliage attractions. There are a few large Ozark fall festivals, such as the Bean Fest in Mountain View, Arkansas which draws 30,000 each year.

Ozark fall foliage is a personal and independent experience. It is a self-guided vacation. Instead of the sophisticated and numerous fall events held in New England you'll be stopping at small town restaurants and rural country stores. It is indeed a true Norman Rockwell experience.

In the Ozarks you won't find the lines, the crowds, and the bumper-to-bumper traffic experienced in many foliage destinations. I find spots where I hear no human-made sounds for hours other than occasional faint roars from high altitude jets. I see and hear a lot more wildlife. I can find the same in New England, but it takes more driving to get to it.

The hot cider? I bring my own, or heat it on a little hiking stove under the trees at some remote scenic overlook. My wife and I enjoy picnics as much as we enjoy stopping at local country stores and restaurants. There will be only a few other people stopping by during either type of meal.

Do I miss the art shows, the harvest festivals, and all the fun people one meets standing in line for a mug of hot New England apple cider? Sure. It can be a real hair-splitter trying to pick a favorite. Here's how I solve the dilemma.

If I want the New England foliage experience I travel to New England, enjoy the peak with my cider and festivals, then come back to the Ozarks just in time to enjoy a second fall foliage display. Since the New England peak is normally in the first week of October, and because the Ozarks peak in the last week of October, I can enjoy both locales in one year, with a two or three week pause in between. Now how much better can leaf-peeping be than that!



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