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The awe of autumn

Alex Doty • Oct 22, 2016 at 7:00 AM

If you’re looking to add a splash of fall color to your life this weekend, you don’t have to travel too far.

“Although the area is famous for our beaches, we are lucky to have so many beautiful places to take in the fall colors,” said Stefanie Herder of the Grand Haven Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Grand Haven and Spring Lake were both named ’Tree City USA’ communities by the Arbor Day Foundation in 2016, so you don’t have to go far.”

Herder noted that there are plenty of locations that she enjoys viewing fall colors by foot, bike, kayak and car.

“By foot, my favorite spots are North Ottawa Dunes and Rosy Mound,” she said. “By bike, the 15-mile Lakeshore Trail around Spring Lake is gorgeous. By kayak, I love paddling along Spring Lake or the Grand River bayous like Bruce Bayou and Pottawattomie Bayou.”

And she also noted that the classic road trip is among her favorites.

“By car, my favorite stretch is along what is known as the Historic River Road — it takes you east from Mercury Drive along the Grand River to Eastmanville, and then back west on Leonard Road,” Herder said. “You can learn more on the Ottawa County Parks website or pick up a free guide at our visitors center on Franklin (Avenue in Grand Haven).”

There are also some new ways to view the fall colors this year, thanks to the opening of M-231 and the first phase of the Spoonville Trail, which crosses the Grand River and follows M-231 from North Cedar Drive in Robinson Township to Leonard Road in Crockery Township.

For people who want to walk the new trail, Ottawa County officials say the best spot to park is near the future trailhead on the Crockery Township side.

MDOT has approved use of their property on the south side of the Grand River — on North Cedar, west of M-231 — for trail users to park,” Ottawa County Planner Paul Sachs said. “This is the same parking area that was utilized for the (Spoonville Trail) ribbon cutting. The county parks department has agreed to mow the site so that folks can park and walk up to the bridge pathway and enjoy the views.”

The science behind the color 

Bill Cook, Michigan State University Extension forestry expert, said color change is a function of photoperiod — the period of time each day during which an organism receives illumination.

According to Cook, trees change colors within a genetically prescribed time period, based on the photoperiod, and different species have different color change windows.

“Frost helps intensify color change by stimulating sugar conversion and associated pigments,” he explained. “Because of the late warm weather, the color change has been pushed to the later side of the color change window. So, in a sense, the change is not late.”

Cook noted that photoperiod and frost occurrence are not the only factors in color change timing and intensity.

“It’s a bit like saying ‘species A’ will change colors between Oct. 5 and Oct. 20,” he said. “Some years, the change occurs nearer to the 5th. Other years, nearer to the 20th. Other species are less discreet, some more so.”

Cook noted that winter dormancy in trees is a chemical and physiological process that begins in early August.

“Although in some senses, it begins early in the spring,” he said. “Fall color change is just one part or phase of the process.”

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