- Associated Press - Saturday, October 29, 2016

FAIRMONT, W.Va. (AP) - The colors of fall are always so prominent in the state of West Virginia, but some places just take your breath away. Valley Falls State Park (valleyfallsstatepark.com), located in Fairmont, is a large tourist attraction for those wanting to see the special colors autumn has to offer.

In 1964, the state acquired the falls and surrounding land, creating what is the state park today. Brett Harshbarger, Valley Falls State Park superintendent, said peak visitor season happens to be a close tie between the beginning of spring and the middle of fall. The leaves begin changing colors in late September and early October with peak colors during mid-October.

“We have all kinds of trees here. A lot of oaks, red and white, along with different kinds of maples. There are a good bit of sycamores along the water,” Harshbarger said.

Different trees produce different-colored leaves in the fall, so at Valley Falls you can find a variety of red, orange, and yellow leaves falling from different maple and oak trees throughout the park. Sycamores and hickory produce yellow and brown leaves.

The 1,145-acre park opens 7 a.m. every day and offers 18 miles of hiking trails as well as marked bicycle trails. This means that the colors of fall can be seen in more ways than just on foot, offering the opportunity to bike and even kayak through the waters to experience the changing scenery from various areas.

“The colors are absolutely beautiful. Driving into the park, the road is lined with trees, so you experience the immerse of colors along the way,” said Sarah Boggess, a Morgantown-based photographer.

Boggess said she continuously returns to Valley Falls for not only family photo shoots but also to take pictures of the scenery. She said even on the drive to and into the falls she will stop to take pictures because the colors are just breathtaking.

“Once you get into the falls area there are so many possibilities for different backdrops. I can spend two hours with a family and not even realize that it’s been two hours,” she said.

Although there are trees that lose their color in the fall, the park still has a large amount of pines and other evergreens that continue to hold their color through the colder months. This makes for an interesting backdrop for the bursting autumn colors.

She described that going into the state park during the fall is almost as if entering into a completely different world. She said it could be compared to walking straight into a postcard.

“When things are growing and things are dying, people are coming around to visit. Fall is one of the biggest times for photography,” Harshbarger said.

The leaves falling from the trees are more than just beauty, they signify the changing of the seasons. Autumn is marked by the sun moving south, causing the hours of daylight to decrease and the falling of temperatures. With this, the production of chlorophyll begins to slow and eventually halt causing the leaves to change from green to oranges, yellows, and reds.

The falls are a popular place in the park for people to do photo shoots for weddings, engagements, and even senior pictures. Joey Herron, a local photographer, said photographing the falls during autumn can produce beautiful pictures.

“The combination of the falls with the water, especially with the leaves changing colors, it really makes for some dramatic pictures,” he said.

With the leaves falling on the water and the reflections they create, Herron said it is a nice area to visit in addition to photograph. He mentioned that one of the nice things about going to Valley Falls is that it is “kind of tucked away from everything else.”

“It’s extremely quiet. That’s another reason I enjoy Valley Falls. It’s a nice place to get away from everyday life,” Boggess said.

The falls offer an escape not just from the scenes of being in town but also from the fast pace that seems to just swallow time. Boggess said being at the park can make time go fast, but she enjoys her time spent there.

“There is a playground across the tracks from the falls, so I can bring my two boys if I have to while I have a photo shoot and I am able to keep an eye on them,” she said.

Unlike some other state parks and national forests in the surrounding areas, she said Valley Falls is never overly crowded. She said she really enjoys being able to get away at the falls, and autumn is her favorite time to be there.

“When you hit the colors just right, almost anywhere in West Virginia, the colors are just spectacular, but the falls are a beautiful place,” Herron said.

He mentioned that on a good day the possibility of taking 1,000 good pictures could come from anywhere in North Central West Virginia.

The falls are a part of the Tygart Valley River, which runs through the state park. There are still some ruins left from the gristmill and sawmill that were placed where the river runs off and circles a little island.

“There used to be a community on the falls back in the days before it was park. It was flooded out a couple of times and now there are old foundations that people like to come see,” Harshbarger said.

The ruins and the falls are large attractions throughout the year, but visitors seem to really enjoy them even more during the fall, he said. Harshbarger mentioned that he believes Valley Falls State Park is one of the most beautiful places in the entire state.

“Visitors come from all over to enjoy the park’s scenic beauty, hiking trails, kayaking, mountain biking, picnicking, and family gatherings. We, of course, are a very popular spot for weddings and hold about 60 weddings a year,” he said.

He commented that while the park is beautiful during the entire year, the beauty increases tenfold during the fall with the incredible colors the season showcases.

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Information from: The Exponent Telegram, https://www.theet.com


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