‘Leaf peeping’ brings tourism to the region as colors approach full peak


ROAN MOUNTAIN, Tenn. (WJHL) – Pumpkin patches and corn mazes may be the first thoughts that come to mind when you think of fall, but for many in the region it’s actually the changing of the leaves.

Our region is nearing the full peak of colors soon and the higher elevations, such as Roan Mountain, are already seeing some beautiful scenery.

According to officials with Roan Mountain State Park, the seasonal change is one of the main reasons the park is seeing an uptick in business. Park Manager Monica Johnson told News Channel 11 visitation has nearly tripled compared to this time last year and their cabins are booked solid through the end of the month.

“October is a busy month for parks in general and it’s probably our busiest month of the entire year with people coming to see the Fall colors and the scenery change,” said Johnson.

“Leaf peepers” are flocking to Roan Mountain, and the parking lot at the visitor’s center was full of cars Tuesday morning as people took advantage of the cooler weather and clearer skies to view the changing leaves.

Visitors came from all over, some as far south as Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. “My mom loves the colors and it’s just so beautiful in the cold. October is usually the hottest time of the year in Puerto Vallarta so it’s a good escape from the heat,” said Kaitlyn Merino.

Merino said seasons don’t really exist where she lives so it’s an experience to visit Northeast Tennessee in the Fall. For the states that don’t really see a change in seasons like Florida, it’s an extra special treat.

“I think it is absolutely beautiful the way it changes colors, because we don’t get that down in Florida,” said Florida native Sherman Drawdy.

Monica Johnson, the Park Manager at Roan Mountain State Park says the peak for fall colors is not far away. “We’re starting to see them come out right now. I think the peak is probably going to be maybe this weekend or mid-week next week but probably no later than the third weekend,” she said.

With the first-ever “Fall-O-Dendron” Festival happening at the park on October 16th from 10 to 5 p.m. she said it’s the perfect time to enjoy fall activities and see those leaves in full form. The time it takes the leaves to turn fully depends on the weather, so she’s urging people to come out sooner rather than later before those branches go bare.

“If people get out this weekend and the following weekend, you’re going to see some beautiful sights,” she said.

While it won’t be long before the leaves hit the ground, Drawdy said he plans on taking a little bit of the season back to the Sunshine state.

“We may collect a few leaves and put wax over them, take them back to Florida and let the people enjoy what we’re seeing up here,” said Drawdy.

As far as Roan Mountain State Park, visitation is currently up but Johnson said that will decline in November with a small up-tick around the Thanksgiving holiday.

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