Autumn is one of the best times to be outdoors in Richmond. The humidity and heat are gone and the air is cooler. It’s the perfect time to go for a walk and watch the leaves turn color.
The Virginia Department of Forestry says that the peak of fall colors for the Richmond area will be in early November, so you have time to plan your walks. Of course, I have some suggestions.
While you’re there: Monument Avenue [slideshow] is located in the Fan District, and you can make you walk that much more enjoyable by heading down any street in The Fan — a neighborhood known for post-Victorian architecture and tree-lined avenues.
The outdoor art museum that is Hollywood Cemetery is always a good place to visit, but the fall is the most visually appropriate. Seeing the fall colors contrasted with the gray granite statues and monuments throughout the rolling hills of the historic cemetery makes the visit a must for a walker interested in Richmond’s past.
While you’re there: Hollywood Cemetery [slideshow] is in Richmond’s Oregon Hill neighborhood and a walk through the streets toward the James River overlook or the nearby Virginia Commonwealth University campus are worthwhile.
I’m partial to the James River Park System, and there are three parks of note for long walks when you’re seeking Autumn leaves in a natural setting.
Pony Pasture [slideshow] and The Wetlands [slideshow] are a great walk and the views of the wild river here are tough to beat. The bonus here is the interior of the trails to The Wetlands. There are many hardwoods and plenty of winding trails to satisfy your color-seeking desires.
The Main Section (42nd Street to some) has one long primary trail along portions of the banks of the James. The hardwoods here are dominated by Sycamore, which tend to drop their leaves earlier than most, but the views across the river more than make up for the missing leaves.
What you’re seeing across the river is North Bank Park. It is much more rustic than the other two JRPS properties I mentioned, but its location on the north bank of the James means the sunlight is less interrupted and/or blocked by the hillsides above the parks along Westover Hills and Stratford Hills, as this is the time of year the sun is in the southern hemisphere.
While you’re there: Watch out for mountain bikers, especially in North Bank and if you choose to walk along the Buttermilk Trail in the Main Section.
Virginia.org has some good information on fall travel, including one of my favorite’s, Pocahontas State Park. As for biological answer to why leaves change color, the Department of Forestry has a good answer:
Most leaf colors are already in the plant leaf.
- Chlorophyll gives leaves their familiar green color.
- Carotenoids produce yellow, orange, and brown colors.
- Anthocyanins add color to red apples, blueberries, cherries, strawberries, and plums. They are water soluble and appear in the watery liquid of leaf cells.
Both chlorophyll and carotenoids are present in the chloroplasts of leaf cells throughout the growing season. During this time, chlorophyll is produced and broken down and leaves appear green. As days get shorter, chlorophyll production slows down until it stops. The green color is no longer visible, and other pigments present (carotenoids) with the chlorophyll are then revealed. During autumn, bright light and excess plant sugars produce anthocyanins within leaf cells.
For more on this year’s fall foliage, see Andrew Freiden’s story at NBC12.com.