As summer gives way to fall and day length continues to shorten, nature offers unparalleled splendor as leaves begin to change colors across the landscape. This beautiful transition from different shades of green to multiple hues of yellows, reds and oranges is very pleasing to the eye, but is actually a by-product of a designed function from within. The beauty of this transition is simply an aesthetical bonus for the eye of the beholder.
The reason for the colorful transition is due to trees preparing themselves for winter by recovering resources from the leaves before they lose them. In the spring and summer, leaves utilize cells containing chlorophyll to manufacture food through photosynthesis. The chlorophyll, as you know from elementary school, is what gives leaves their green color. Leaves also contain yellow and orange pigments called carotene (hence the name of the carrot) and xanthophyll, but are masked out by the large amounts of chlorophyll. Then, due to the the shortening of the day length, trees slow and eventually stop their chlorophyll production, thus revealing orange and yellow hues of the carotene and xanthophyll.
But what about the trees with red autumn leaves?
Exactly why this happens is uncertain but scientists have some ideas about red leaves. One thing that has been determined is that some species of trees produce anthocyanins in the fall, which are naturally occurring red-colored pigments that make raspberries red and blueberries blue. Scientists believe that some trees produce the anthocyanin compounds after photosynthesis has stopped to act as a form of sunscreen during late summer and early fall when there are still bright sunny days. Other ideas about red autumn leaves could be from glucose that is trapped inside leaves after photosynthesis ceases in some trees like maples. Sunlight and the cool nights of autumn may cause the leaves to turn the glucose into a red color.
Regardless of why it happens, leaf lookers around the great state of Tennessee will flock to the countryside to enjoy the painted landscape. While we are sure you will consider the magnificent panoramas of the GSMNP, there are many other fantastic places to enjoy fall foliage including many lands that are managed by TWRA.
THE NORTH CHEROKEE NATIONAL FOREST-
-Borders the much less visited part of the GSMNP near Cosby and Del Rio, Tenn. and continues along the North Carolina border through Johnson County, Tenn.
THE SOUTH CHEROKEE NATIONAL FOREST-
-Foothills WMA borders the South Cherokee NF and consists of 11,000 acres managed by TWRA. Take the Foothills Parkway south off of Hwy. 321 between Maryville and Townsend.
-Views of the South Cherokee NF and Chilhowee Lake from the world famous Hwy. 129 (Tail of the Dragon).
THE CUMBERLAND PLATEAU-
-Cove Lake State Park is 717 acres just off of I-75 in Campbell Co. on the eastern edge of the Cumberland Plateau. Gorgeous lake, nature trails and paved walkways.
-North Cumberland WMA consists of 189,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau managed by TWRA. Offers hunting and excellent ATV riding for licensed hunters or those possessing the required High Impact Habitat Conservation Permit.
-Big South Fork National River and Recreation area encompasses 125,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau containing the free-flowing Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and its tributaries.
-Norris Lake views of the Cumberland Plateau
-Watts Bar Lake views of the Cumberland Plateau
-Bridgestone/Firestone WMA consists of 15,454 acres in White Co. on the Cumberland Co. line six miles south of Hwy. 70. Welch Point offers great fall foliage views. Keep in mind however that ATVs, motorcycles and the riding of hooded animals is prohibited. The area is also closed to all non-hunting activities during deer hunts.
-Prentice Cooper State Forest/WMA is 24,000 acres in Marion Co. on Hwy. 27. Insurance Overlook is a well known spot for viewing fall foliage.