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Fall colors could bring more tourists to the Northwoods

Severe drought in Southeast and Northwest Wisconsin could mute fall color in those parts of the state. But North-Central Wisconsin anticipates an especially vibrant autumn. That could drive more tourists to the region.

From the top of an observation tower on Timm’s Hill, red, orange and yellow treetops span out in every direction for as far as the eye can see.

It’s a sight many people want to take in, and on a chilly Thursday morning, groups of people take turns climbing up the steps of the tower.

At the foot of the stairs, visitors can write their name in a spiral-bound notebook.

The list of names from the past week is filled with locals from Medford and Irma, but it also includes visitors from Michigan, Iowa and Washington.

All are seeking to take in a stunning view – and it’s a view that could get better in the next couple of weeks.

“We should be starting to see some brilliant colors in the central part of our state and the Northeast as well,” says Colleen Matula, a silviculturist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Matula says lots of rain during growing season and cool autumn nights amplify the colors of different leaves.

She also says warmer temperatures because of climate change could prolong the season.

“It puts off the fall color change,” she says, “so we’re going to start seeing the fall color change a little bit later this year than normally.”

All of this could be a good sign for tourism, which is already higher than ever.

“We’re seeing just constant steady increases,” says Krystal Westfahl, the executive director of the Minocqua Chamber of Commerce. “2020 was on par with 2019, maybe even a little up. And then this year, [tourism] has just gone way up, and we are seeing that through this year and well into the fall.”

Westfahl anticipates fewer families visiting this season, but lots of couples without kids.

She says her favorite spot to view the changing leaves is Highway J.

Erin Gottsacker worked at WXPR as a Morning Edition host and reporter from December 2020 to January 2023. During her time at the station, Erin reported on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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