PILOT MOUNTAIN — With fall foliage approaching its peak at Pilot Mountain State Park, officials there are trying to make the viewing process easier for visitors in light of crowds attracted by nature’s splendor.
The annual pilgrimage of leaf-watching visitors to Pilot Mountain is well under way, as described by Park Superintendent Matt Windsor — although the peak hasn’t been reached.
That will occur probably at the end of October through about the first week of November, park personnel say.
“We’re starting to get some really good reds and some oranges, but most of our oaks are still green,” Ranger Jesse Anderson said Tuesday.
“Our various types of oaks are probably the most-dominant deciduous hardwoods we have in the park,” Anderson added in reference to species that shed leaves every year. “They have yet to turn.”
A number of variables, including precipitation and lower temperatures, can affect when leaves reach their color peak and how vivid the display actually will be during a given fall.
“It seems normal to me,” Anderson said of the present condition at Pilot Mountain State Park. “We haven’t had a really strong cold spell.” As nights become longer and cooler, chlorophyll levels decrease, causing the green colors to disappear and yellow and orange hues to emerge.
Heavy traffic tips
While the peak viewing time has yet to arrive at the local park, that hasn’t stopped the crowds that have clogged traffic within its boundaries — including this past weekend.
“Both Saturday and Sunday, there were times when the waiting time was up to an hour to get to the top of the summit,” Anderson said of the main road at the park.
Windsor, its superintendent, has announced some crowd-management guidelines to lessen the problems at Pilot Mountain State Park during upcoming weekends as the leaves are changing.
“We would like to ask visitors that are local to please consider visiting during the week if you are just planning a short visit or a scenic drive,” he suggested.
“The park is experiencing record visitation year-round, and the fall is no exception,” Windsor added. “On busy weekends as many as 2,000 vehicles a day enter the mountain, which has only 150 total formal parking spaces.”
This can result in waits of 45 minutes or longer, on a steep grade, and increase the chances of traffic accidents.
Another problem relates to a situation noted every weekend, when a large number of visitors come off the highway wanting to ride through the park and not stop
“Ride-through traffic of this kind is not possible when the park is full — you will have to wait in line to either visit or turn around,” Windsor advised.
Signage is posted outside the park gates when the facility reaches capacity. When the wait becomes 30 minutes or more for parking, all incoming traffic is redirected back out the front gate.
The amount of vehicular traffic the park once experienced only in the fall now occurs on a regular basis year-round. So local residents should keep this in mind when visiting during any nice weekend, by planning ahead and arriving early, Windsor suggested.
By checking the park website at http://www.ncparks.gov/pilot-mountain-state-park, those planning to visit can find alternate areas for hiking at the mountain and directions to its Yadkin River Section where there is seldom any parking problem.
When possible, live traffic updates will also be available using the smartphone app “Waze” (https://www.waze.com/), which provides users with real-time updates.
Windsor mentioned that everyone’s patience is appreciated and he hopes they “enjoy the leaves.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.