Who’s mapping Maine’s autumnal splendor?
By Suzanne Rico
The Madam of Maples is Gale Ross’s nickname around the Augusta headquarters of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry. She’s retired from year-round work now, but she comes back every fall to do a job she’s done for three decades: track the explosion of reds, yellows, and oranges across Maine’s 17 million forested acres, so that leaf peepers might find their bliss. “At one time, tourism numbers on Columbus Day weekend actually surpassed Labor Day weekend,” she says. “Autumn enthusiasts, foliage fans . . . they’re inspired.”
The state started tracking leafy pageantry in 1959, updating the media by phone and, later, fax. In the ’90s, DACF created its online Foliage Report, with a map showing where trees are near, at, or past peak colors. “It’s seriously low-tech,” admits Ross, whose formal title is fall foliage spokesperson. “Forest rangers do on-the-ground observations and report back.”
Ranger Jeff Currier, a 27-year veteran, leans on experience to judge fullness of colors and percentages of leaf drop — factors that drive the report. Northern stretches color up first, usually in late September, while coastal areas turn later, usually around mid-October. Over the years, Currier has come to favor one place. “The St. John Valley, in Aroostook County,” he says. “It’s best because of the forest type and rolling hills. You get these vantage points where you can see for miles.”
The Foliage Report’s eight-week season started September 11, with updates every Wednesday, and the Madam of Maples expects some three-quarters of a million page views this year, same as last. “One of my coworkers was very upset that my page was getting more hits than the Maine Forest Service page,” Ross says. “And mine is only up for two months!”