Thursday, November 17, 2016

Very unusual fall by John Dersham

Our fall tourism was normal in numbers of visitors and the number of events held. Visitors came and they filled our hotels, campgrounds, B&B's and rental cabins. They will keep coming at least through Thanksgiving, but that is where the similarities end. When it comes to the environmental conditions things are very different than any year since I have been in tourism and for everyone I talk to, we have witnessed the hottest driest summer and fall on record. The southeast, including our area has been blanketed in smoke from thousands of wildfires throughout the region and a number of them in our area. The heat and the drought have devastated ponds, rivers, creeks and our waterfalls are 100% dry for the first time anyone seems to remember. Trees are dying and some will not come back out. The heat and the drought were too much and when spring comes some trees will not bud again. When I moved here I planted Hemlock and Spruce trees that are known to grow here in tree hardiness Zone 7 according the Arbor Day Foundation. In fact, there are a number of native stands of Hemlocks in North Alabama, but this year seems to have crossed the line. These trees are more typical in points a little further north and I fear trees like the Hemlocks, Blue Spruce and Norway Spruce along with woody plants like Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel will have a high death rate due to the excess heat and drought. I hope I am wrong. Overall, I feel climate change might move Zone 7 further north when climate calculations are revised.
Overall, we did not get many complaints from tourists disappointed that our fall color was not quite up to normal, but it was still good. Some were disappointed we had no waterfalls, but those came from people who lived outside the drought area that did not know how dry it was here. Those that live in our region kind of expected there would be very little water or none.

I hope the late fall and winter rains will come soon to restore our rivers and creeks and bring water to our ponds, trees and wildlife.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Tourism this fall season by John Dersham

We have had a good fall season with a lot of visitors filling our parks, filling our lodging facilities, attending festivals and events and many fall foliage seekers. I typically, from the tourism point of view, consider our fall tourist season to start with Fort Payne Boom Days Heritage Celebration the third week of September and ending after Thanksgiving. These dates represent the span when we get the largest amount of visitors coming to our county to enjoy fall. Within that time frame are the primary things that attract our out of town visitors; Boom Days, DeKalb VFW Agricultural Fair, Mentone Colorfest and the primary one is not an event but the landscape and the weather. Our visitors come to enjoy our beautiful scenery during fall and our beautiful fall foliage. Visitors come because the weather is cooler and clearer and we usually have less rain in September and October but this year everything is different. The good news is the visitors are still coming for the same reason; the bad news is they are not getting our typical fall environment. Our record drought and record heat has left our rivers and waterfalls 100% dry for the first time anyone can remember. Fall foliage has gotten pretty nice now but overall is not up to normal. Trees near lakes or rivers that have water look good but when you look at the mountainside the colors are mostly shades of brown with a hint of red and yellow but not quite as vibrant as usual. The drought has caused many trees to shed their leaves early or they have just turned brown. Most of our visitors don't seem too surprised that they are not getting to see water in our waterfalls. Most live within the drought area and knew it would be dry here. Some people however from outside the drought area like from Louisiana, parts of Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky that did not have the severe drought are disappointed when they get to our major waterfall attractions and they are not flowing at all. We had a tour bus of 53 retirees from Birmingham a couple weeks ago. I served as the step on guide. They had a great time and loved our scenic beauty but when we visited DeSoto Falls and Little River Canyon they were more amazed by the dry riverbed and no water coming of the falls then they were by its inherent beauty. It became a topic of conversation and agreement about climate change and what is going on that in October it has been in the high 80’s and low 90’s all month. I had personal plans to take an updated picture of Little River Canyon this fall for advertising. The lack of water made me cancel that picture for this year. Can you imagine an advertising shot of Little River Canyon with a dried up river bed and no waterfalls?
Now that we are into the first week of November we are nearing the peak of fall foliage color and soon the leaves will fall and as we move toward Thanksgiving, by then most all signs of fall will be gone and our landscape will turn to winter. We have many visitors that come for Thanksgiving. They rent cabins or camp and have Thanksgiving with family that meets them here. It has become good tourism business for us. It also marks the end of our fall tourism season. After Thanksgiving everyone turns their focus to Christmas and winter weather sets in and people cozy up at home and our area gets quiet in the places that were full of tourists just a few weeks prior.
During the winter season we get visitors when Cloudmont Ski Resort is open and we get some winter visitors who like to hike and ride bikes or camp in the winter landscape and they like the cooler temperatures. For the most part our tourism season slowly begins again in middle and late March as school spring breaks come about and the first hints of spring dot the landscape with yellow Daffodils and grass that is beginning to turn green.