BY KELLY MONITZ
Northeast Pennsylvania’s rolling hills and mountains will be putting on a vivid display of autumnal reds, yellows and bright orange in the coming weeks, and area tourism agencies are ready — with precautions — to welcome visitors.
Fall foliage season in Greater Hazleton traditionally peaks around Oct. 26, and this year looks to be right on track, state forester Tim Latz said. Areas to the north will likely be putting on their best show about 10 days sooner, he said.
Previous years saw much later displays of fall color due to wetter and warmer conditions and a longer growing season, but this year is more drought-like and could produce a shorter fall foliage season with many trees turning around the same time, Latz said.
Most years, certain trees turn sooner than others, making the fall foliage season stretch for a few weeks, he said.
The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will be posting fall foliage updates on its website every week starting Thursday, Latz said. The department also produces a report for the Pocono Mountain Visitors Bureau, which also posts weekly updates to its website, he said.
Many annual fairs and festivals celebrating the brilliant fall season won’t be happening due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but tourism groups throughout the region are ready to welcome visitors on day trips or mini-vacations.
“Fall is always a popular time here in Luzerne County,” said Megan Filak, a spokeswoman for Visit Luzerne County.
“We have beautiful foliage throughout our mountains and valleys, and plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation with our parks, trails and waterways. Plus we’re an easy drive from a number of cities,” she said.
The COVID crisis has affected tourism, Filak said, but they still expect people to visit, even though they’re urging caution.
Luzerne County has many outdoor recreation sites and they’re advising hikers to avoid crowded trails, and have alternate trails in mind if parking lots are full, she said.
People should still practice social distancing and keep masks available for use when around others, Filak said.
Visit Luzerne County has a driving tour mapped out on its website, allowing people to take in the scenery and stop for some tasty bits along the way, Filak said.
In Luzerne County, Latz recommends Route 29 from the Harveys Lake area and Route 239 through Mocanaqua as good routes to view the foliage as well as Main Road through Glen Lyon, he said.
People may also want to take advantage of hiking and bike trails around Moon Lake Recreation Area in the Pinchot State Forest, which peaks just a few days before the Hazleton area, he said.
In Carbon County, the Jim Thorpe Tourism Agency canceled the annual fall festival for 2020, but is encouraging people to support local merchants and restaurants. The agency will not be organizing any craft or food vendors in town, according to its website.
The agency also advised people to take safety precautions when visiting, asking them to wear masks and follow rules set forth by area businesses.
Also, the agency is not offering satellite parking and shuttle service from Mauch Chunk Lake Park this year. Parking in Jim Thorpe is always at a premium, the agency said, and some 400 spaces are available in the county municipal lot, adjacent to the train station.
People are advised to come to town early and stay late to avoid the normal fall traffic congestion, the agency said.
The Pocono Mountain Visitors Bureau has seen the fall tourist season grow each year for the last five years, and it may be overtaking the other seasons, said Chris Barrett, CEO and president.
“It’s a good season for us,” he said, adding that since March-April shutdown, that the bureau is seeing more folks in area parks than ever before.
Families are also taking advantage of short-term rentals in the Poconos, Barrett said. They’re able to enjoy the area with hiking, biking, rafting, hunting and fishing, he said, and still keep to themselves.
The Poconos are actually seeing a surge in popularity with the pandemic, as people are discovering the area or re-discovering natural areas, Barrett said. The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, for instance, is seeing record numbers of visitors this year, he said.
The Pocono region is also a short drive from New York City, Philadelphia and Lancaster, Barrett said, and people are more comfortable with driving to destinations in this COVID climate.
Driving through the region is another way to enjoy the fall colors with many scenic roads to take in the area’s mountain vistas, Barrett said.
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