ESCANABA - As the days grow cooler and colors change, the fall tourism season is just beginning in the Upper Peninsula.
"I would say that it's going to be similar to last year but fall tourism is so dependent on the weather. It really depends on when the fall colors change," said Steve Masters, executive director of the Bays de Noc Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Experts agree that the changing trees are a major factor driving tourism in the Upper Peninsula, as visitors enter the area searching for peak fall colors.
"You're not going to have peak everywhere at the same time," said Tom Nemacheck, executive director of the Upper Peninsula Travel & Recreation Association, adding the association received many phone calls asking when peak colors would occur in the U.P.
Currently, very few local trees are showing color changes, but changes could be around the corner.
"Mother Nature does what Mother Nature does, and in three weeks, it could be completely different," said Masters.
According to Nemacheck, color changes usually begin the last week in September and continue through the first two weeks of October. The changes in fall color typically begin in the western, inland portions of the U.P. and progress towards the lakes.
While Nemacheck believes that the increase in rain during the summer will help produce a more colorful display this fall, he notes heavy rains or strong winds could knock leaves off the trees, damaging the displays and hurting tourism.
"When they're reaching their fall color, their also at they're weakest because they're drying out," said Nemacheck.
Wind and rain could damage the picturesque foliage, but wintery weather could be detrimental to travelers.
Most travelers visiting the U.P. are from Lower Michigan or surrounding states, and travel around four of five hours to reach the area.
"If we get one of those early snow falls, that eliminates a lot of people from coming up to see the color," Nemacheck noted, adding that as the season progresses into winter, tourists will travel shorter distances to reach their destination.
"It's a serious decision to drive through any of the Great Lakes States in the winter," he said.
Despite the negative effect that early snows could have on U.P. tourism, experts are not predicting the price of gas to be as a much of a deterrent to travelers as it has been in past years.
"We haven't heard a lot of complaints about it this year so I can't imagine it would have much of an effect," said Nemacheck.
Another major component of regional tourism is local events. While fewer events are held during the fall and winter months, some events - such as the Cabela's Masters Walleye Circuit World Walleye Championship being held in Escanaba Oct. 17-19 - are expected to bring in large crowds.
"If you look at our website, uptravel.com, everyone is allowed to list their events for free so it really pretty much has every event listed," noted Nemacheck.