Sep. 16—The North Dakota Tourism Division of the North Dakota Department of Commerce is already posting information about the colorful fall foliage in the state for potential travelers.
"It hasn't been a normal year," said Kim Schmidt, communications manager for the department. "Our website shows the percentage of change across the entire state."
Mary Lee Nielson, marketing coordinator for the Sheyenne River Valley Scenic Byway Association at Valley City, said forecasting the best time to view colorful leaves is a challenge.
"My favorite question is an out-of-state caller asking when is the best time to see the leaves," she said. "We tell them the last half of September is usually the best but it varies."
The Scenic Byway Association promotes the Sheyenne Valley Arts and Crafts Fall Festival in Fort Ransom, North Dakota, which also occurs in late September.
Nielson said most people traveling to view fall colors are "empty nesters," usually older couples traveling without children.
"Except for the arts and crafts festival," she said. "People of all ages (go) to that."
So far, fall colors are most common in the northern part of the state with places like the Turtle Mountains and Pembina Gorge noting between 5% and 10% of the trees already transitioning to the yellows and reds of the fall, according to the North Dakota Tourism Division website.
The North Dakota Forest Service said the peak fall colors in the state commonly occur sometime between the middle of September and the middle of October. This year's hot and dry weather is likely to push that prime viewing time ahead about 10 days, according to the Forest Service.
The Forest Service also said that the color changes could be less intense and the leaves may fall from the trees quicker than normal because of the dry and hot weather.
As those colors progress this fall, North Dakota Tourism expects visitors.
"Fall is a popular time for visitors to explore and photograph North Dakota's fall foliage areas and our online map provides weekly updates on where they may find some of the best colors," said Commerce Tourism and Marketing Director Sara Otte Coleman. "Our communities also embrace this time of year hosting family-friendly activities and events that encourage longer stays in their destinations."
Fall foliage tourism is an important part of tourism even if it is difficult to measure.
"We can't track if people are coming to the state just for colors," Schmidt said.
Statistics from North Dakota Parks and Recreation showed the state's parks had 224,000 visitors during the peak color months of September and October last year.
This compares to less than 70,000 in the two months that followed.