- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2005

The hills are alive

As the temperatures drop and the nights grow longer, a kaleidoscope of color blooms on the hillsides, roadways and parks throughout the Washington area. October is — or should be — the month of colorful foliage, as Mother Nature prepares the trees for the cold winter months.

Prime viewing time this year, as always, should be sometime around the third week of October (Oct. 16-23), according to Scott Aker, the garden unit leader at the U.S. National Arboretum in Northeast.

Peak time is usually the same every year, Mr. Aker says, because the timing of the leaves’ change depends on day length. What differs from year to year, he says, is the hue and intensity of the colors.

“From the way it looks right now, this year will be heavy on the yellow and orange colors because many of the purples and reds won’t fully develop due to the lack of rain the past few months,” Mr. Aker says.

“This year’s foliage might not be as bright and varied as in years past, but it should still provide some colors and good views.”

With plenty of parks, forests and scenic drives in this area, it is ideal for fall foliage viewing. Here are some spots around the District, Maryland and Virginia that offer good vantage points.

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Current high gas prices may deter many people from making the drive to Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park (504/999-3500), but it is still one of the top viewing destinations in the area. During peak weekends in October and early November, the drive can be very crowded, so try to schedule the trip during the week. Otherwise, head toward the southern section of the drive, between Swift Run Gap and Waynesboro; it offers great views but is not so crowded as the northern part.

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Just north of the District lies Greenbelt National Park (Greenbelt Road at Kenilworth Avenue and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, Greenbelt, 301/344-3948). Located a short drive up the tree-lined Baltimore-Washington Parkway (which also offers plenty of views), the park offers nature trails, picnic areas and a campsite for those looking to make an evening out of it.

In Montgomery County, several nature centers offer some insight on the scenery along with some great viewing sites. Maydale Nature Center (1638 Maydale Drive, Colesville. 301/879-1027) has 24 acres of wooded areas, two ponds and a network of trails. Brookside Nature Center (Wheaton Regional Park, 1400 Glenallan Ave., Wheaton, 301/946-9071) offers a variety of family-friendly educational activities along with self-guided nature trails that weave through Wheaton Regional Park.

For those willing to wait until late October or early November, Southern Maryland is yet another escape for area leaf watchers. Point Lookout State Park (301/872-5688) in St. Mary’s County is dotted with cherry, maple and oak trees along with plenty of pines for a deep-green contrast.

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In the District, Rock Creek Park provides plenty of places to view the change of seasons. Foliage lovers can access the acres of woods by foot or bike or stay right in the car. Those looking to spend a little extra time can pack a lunch and dine at the many picnic tables throughout the park. Stop by the Rock Creek Nature Center (5200 Glover Road NW, 202/895-6070) for the latest information or to pick up a map.

The U.S. National Arboretum (3501 New York Ave. NE, 202/245-2726) is also a favorite of leaf peepers. The arboretum provides one of best collections of trees anywhere in the area and during the peak season provides wide-open views of the season’s change. The park covers 444 acres of prime wooded real estate and has plenty of walking paths and nearly 10 miles of roads that are open to the public.

Beginning in Georgetown, walkers and bikers can hop onto the C&O Canal trail for plenty of leaf watching and some history. The trail runs 184.5 miles from Washington to Cumberland, and many of its original historic structures — like locks, lock houses and aqueducts — are still standing.

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Heading south or west of the District provides a wide array of viewing opportunities. Running parallel with the Potomac River is the scenic George Washington Parkway. The parkway runs from I-495 in the north to historic Mount Vernon in the south. Just a simple drive on the parkway will provide pleasant views, but also there are plenty of places to stop and view nature at work. A bike and walking path follows the parkway, if you are looking to stretch your legs and maybe take a photo or two. Day parking lots are available throughout the route.

Right off of the parkway is Theodore Roosevelt Island (703/289-2500). Situated in the Potomac River, the 88-acre island is full of nature trails and is surprisingly spacious, given its close proximity to the city.

Heading north on the parkway in the Great Falls area of Virginia, there are several viewing spots and hiking trails. Scotts Run Nature Preserve (7400 Georgetown Pike, McLean, 703/324-8702), River Bend Park (8700 Potomac Hill St., Great Falls, 703/759-3211) and Bluemont Park (601 N. Manchester St., 703/228-3323) in nearby Arlington are just some of the many parks open to the public and just a short drive away from the District.

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To get the most up-to-date information on fall foliage see the National Forest Service’s Web site, www.fs.fed.us/news/fallcolors, or call its fall foliage hotline at 800/354-4595. The Weather Channel also offers updates and maps at www.weather.com/fallfoliage.

Thomas Walter

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