They say you can’t improve on Mother Nature.
Not this time of year, anyway.
But both the Missouri Department of Conservation and the U.S. Forest Service think she could use a little help with promotion, so they are putting more technology at her service as autumn begins.
The agencies have blogs, a new website, Twitter feeds, YouTube videos and even a new application designed to make it easier for people to track fall colors.
Between the Mark Twain National Forest in southern Missouri and the Ozark National Forest in northern Arkansas, the U.S. Forest Service manages more than 2.7 million acres of mostly oak-hickory forest — an area nearly half the size of Vermont or New Hampshire.
This year, the U.S. Forest Service website — www.fs.fed.us/fallcolors/2013 — has a “Fall Colors Progression” map that tracks the spread of fall colors southward, said Tiffany Holloway, a spokeswoman for the federal agency in Washington, D.C.
Red for a region will signal the peak of fall colors, brown will mean the peak has passed, green will mean fall color has not yet arrived.
Alaska is the only state showing red right now, she said.
The Forest Service also has a link on its website to a popular YouTube video, “Why Leaves Change Color,” and tweets color updates using the handle “U.S. Forest Service.” Holloway said they have more than 44,000 Twitter followers so far.
But don’t worry if you’re more old school: The Forest Service also maintains a free telephone hot line — 800-354-4595 — that can tell you when different regions of the country are red hot.
The Missouri Department of Conservation, which manages nearly 1 million acres of land across the state, two-thirds of it forested, now has a free app available on its website — mdc.mo.gov — that will allow people to track fall colors throughout the state and share photos.
“It has both an Android and Apple versions,” said Jon Skinner, a forester with the department based in Joplin. “The app will have the advantage of color photos that have been sent in.”
The website and the app both contain fall color updates for specific regions of the state.
According to the latest report, by the way, Southwest Missouri is just starting to see the first of its fall color. Sumac, sassafras and Virginia creeper are beginning to turn.
“Most of the stuff we see currently is the yellow off the elms and the walnuts,” said Skinner.
Some hard maples already have color, too.
“Even in early August, we had a few cool nights in the 50s and some maples started to shade red,” he said.
The late summer rains and cooler-than-average weather also bode well for this fall.
“The fall color I am anticipating will be a little better than average,” said Skinner. “The trees are recovering from two years of drought stress.”
Fall colors in southern Missouri usually peak mid- to late October.
Andy Ostmeyer is metro editor of The Joplin Globe.
The Mark Twain National Forest also has maps that can be downloaded from its website — www.fs.usda.gov/detail/mtnf/maps-pubs/?cid=fsm8_045644 — showing routes with the best fall colors. For Southwest Missouri, that includes the Glade Top National Forest Scenic Byway near Ava and the Sugar Camp National Forest Scenic Byway, between Missouri Highways 112 and 86.