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Autumn in Maine: So much to fall for

AUGUSTA, Maine - Planning a fall foliage trip to Maine? Here's what you need to know. The leaves show their color first in the extreme north, then in the western mountains and central valleys, and lastly in eastern,
coastal and southern locations. When does foliage reach its peak? That's up to the weather, which can speed up or delay the transformation of leaf pigment due to a number of factors. Peak foliage can't be predicted, but one thing is certain: anyone visiting Maine from the last week of September to the third week of October will see trees showing off the yellow, orange, red and purple hues that have made Maine the top destination for leaf-peepers.

Here are a few more reasons why Maine is so popular in the fall, and some suggestions on how to enjoy the dazzling display of colors throughout the state.

~Strength (and more color) in numbers: With 17 million acres of forest, Maine has more land covered by trees than any other state in the country. Maine's coastline, inland valleys, rivers, lakes and mountains are home to
76 tree species, 52 of which are the hardwood leaf-producing variety. Autumn's most photogenic stars like the sugar maple, oak, elm, birch and ash are all native to the state. Even the Maine Turnpike is lined with
beautiful foliage during October.

~Drives with a view: Maine's nine state and national scenic byways take travelers through some of the state's best locations for viewing foliage from the road. In the western mountains region, the Rangeley Lakes National
Scenic Byway begins on Route 17 in Byron and traverses north to its namesake waterway. The must-stop turnout along this route is about 10 miles in at Height of Land. This panoramic overlook offers a view of five lakes
and the colorful mountainsides that surround them. In northern Maine, the State Route 11 Scenic Byway winds between two mountains and two lakes and follows the Fish River to the historic town of Fort Kent.

~Great parks with great hikes: It's no accident that Maine's state parks are located in some of the state's most scenic coastal and woodland settings. Here are a few that offer excellent hiking trails through and to
fabulous foliage. Bradbury Mountain State Park on Route 9 in Pownal near Freeport, Camden Hills State Park on Route 1 in Camden, Mount Blue State Park off Route 156 in Weld, Grafton Notch State Park on Route 26 near
Newry, and Aroostook State Park off Route 1 near Presque Isle. For more information on these and other state parks or historic sites in Maine, visit www.maine.gov/doc/parks.

~Leaf-peeper central: Maine's best resource for foliage updates, information and travel suggestions is www.mainefoliage.com. The Web site is operated by the Maine Department of Conservation and provides a weekly
overview of foliage conditions throughout the state beginning the third week of September until Oct. 25. A foliage forum allows locals and visitors to share their observations about the annual changing of colors. Also featured on the site is "live help" which will be available during the season to answer foliage-related questions.

For more information about accommodations or events taking place in Maine this fall, log on to www.visitmaine.com or call 1-888-624-6345.

 

North Star Orchards is a destination in itself

MADISON, Maine - Plump orbs in shades of scarlet may be what North Star Orchards is known for, but orchard owner Judy Dimock says apple sales are just one piece of the businesses' pie.
 
"What we are really offering is an experience," explains Dimock, who bought the Madison-based 40-acre orchard with her husband, Everett, in 1976.
 
That experience has led the Dimock family -two generations of which work on the farm including Judy and Everett and their two children Rob and Jennifer- to expand North Star Orchards into a harvest season hot spot.
 
Orchard-goers can explore the exposed beam farm store, cruising for country home accessories and hard goods from spiced apple syrup to pie plates or hit the fields for a wagon ride in the wildflowers.
 
Pick-your-own is a popular pastime at North Star and Dimock explains that a renewed focus on fresh food among Americans has enticed more apple eaters down Orchard Road.
 
"We are dependent on the apples to make people come here, but once they are here, there is also this other stuff. People like the idea of picking their own but they come here for the experience," she says. "We're providing more than apples. We're preserving a way of life."
 
The Dimock family's land yields 20,000 bushels of apples each autumn (a bushel weights 40 pounds) from its nearly 6,000 trees. Varieties vary from the known like tart McIntosh to crisp Cortlands to the hidden gems, like Ginger Gold, Paula Red and Gala.
 
That wide selection means many customers have questions about what apple is right for their recipe. Dimock lets them sample and sees the farm store as an opportunity for education.
 
"The most common question is 'What's the best eating apple or pie apple?' You really have to take to the customer to see what they want," she explains. 
 
As fields long farmed for apples are now being replaced by a new and more lucrative cash crop - house lots, the Dimocks believe positioning their farm as a destination worth the drive is the only way to survive.
 
While many apple orchards participate in Maine's Annual Apple Sunday, the Dimocks do more.
 
"People ask us, "When is Apple Sunday?' We say everyday is Apple Sunday," she says with a laugh. 
 
That means that in addition to free wagon rides on the weekends, North Star hosts an Applesauce Sunday with demonstrations and an apple sauce sundae bar and has cider making demonstrations throughout the harvest season.
 
And Everett,  who is the farm's horticulturist and has a degree in pomology from Cornell University, takes to the fields when pick-your-owners are out loading up their baskets to the brim to explain the intricacies of the fruit.
 
"I think the consumer is becoming more interested in who is producing their food. People are finally reconnecting with where their food is coming from," Dimock says. "They don't want a Disney-version of how their food is grown - they want to see the real thing. They want to see the tractor. They want to see the wagon loaded full of apples. I have a sense that the buy local rhetoric has finally come to fruition."
 
While that movement means visits to the farm are up, it has also brought about an increased demand for North Star Orchards' orbs in the supermarket produce department. Two-thirds of the crop is carried at Hannaford grocery stores in Skowhegan, Madison, Rumford, Jay, Oxford and Farmington and during the selling season, deliveries are done each day.
 
The farm also produces 20,000 gallons of cider and 13,000 jars of apple jams, jellies and syrups which are sold under the brand name "McIntosh Farm" across New England.

North Star Orchards is open daily from September through December and on the weekends January through August. For more information, phone (207) 696-5109.

 

Keeping fueled for foliage adventures in Western Maine

Western Maine - A camera with extra film/memory card and batteries, sturdy footwear and binoculars are essential equipment for successful fall foliage viewing.

But to really enjoy a day of touring and trail walking, leaf peepers must also be well fueled. The Lakes & Mountains Region of western Maine offers dozens of destinations for foliage lovers, and unique eateries using local ingredients to fill hungry stomachs morning, noon and night.

Here are suggestions for where to see the fall colors and where to stop for delicious food and beverages during autumn in the Lakes & Mountains Region.

Farmington Area
Foliage Spots: Mount Blue State Park off Route 156 in Weld, the Wire Bridge off Route 146 in New Portland, and the Narrow Gauge Pathway off Route 27 in CarrabassettValley. www.franklincountychamberofcommerce.org

Breakfast: Java Joe's Corner Cafe, 42 Main St. in Farmington. Specializing in coffees from Africa, Central and South America and Indonesia, locally roasted by Carrabassett Coffee Company. Offers more than 10 organic coffee varieties.  207-779-1000

Lunch: The Orange Cat Café, Route 27 in Kingfield. Vegetarian sandwiches, fresh salads and free wireless Internet access. 207-265-2860

Dinner: Hug's Restaurant, Route 27 in Carrabassett Valley. A charming place with popular northern Italian family recipes, irresistible pesto bread and nightly dinner specials. 207-237-2392.

Norway Area
Foliage Spots: Singepole Mountain off Route 117 in South Paris, Snow Falls Gorge on Route 26 in West Paris and Norway Lake along Route 26 and 118 in Norway. www.oxfordhillsmaine.com

Breakfast: Shaner's Family Dining, Main St. in South Paris. A large place with a big menu for all appetites. 207-743-6367

Lunch: The River Restaurant, Route 26 in West Paris. Soups made from scratch, great pasta dishes and crab cakes. 207-674-3800

Dinner: Lake House Restaurant, corner of Routes 35 and 37 in Waterford. Elegant dining with a great wine selection and delicious desserts. 207-583-4182

Bethel Area
Foliage Spots: Screw Auger Falls at Grafton Notch State Park on Route 26 in North Newry, the Androscoggin River from West Bethel to Bethel and Route 113 from Gilead to Fryeburg, along the Wild River, through the Evan's Notch Region of the White Mountain National Forest. www.bethelmaine.com

Breakfast: Cinnamon Stick Cafe, Route 26 in Locke Mills. Fresh made donuts and cinnamon buns, and great omelets. 207-824-5282

Lunch: S.S. Milton, 43 Main St. in Bethel. Fresh Maine lobster rolls, a Monte-Cristo sandwich featuring Maine maple syrup, and delicious desserts like Maine blueberry crisp and Maine apple pie. 207-824-2589

Dinner: The Victoria Inn & Restaurant, 32 Main St. in Bethel. Maine smoked salmon tartine, local asparagus with balsamic shallots, and a Maine apple cider martini. 207-824-8060

Bridgton Area
Foliage Spots: Douglas Mountain off Route 107 in Sebago, Keoka Lake off Route 37 in Waterford and Stevens Brook Trail off Main St. in Bridgton. www.mainelakeschamber.com

Breakfast: Café DeCarlo, Main Street in Bridgton. This Internet café and espresso bar will give a kick-start to your day. 207-647-4596.

Lunch: Bray's Brew Pub & Eatery, Route 302 in Naples. Great Maine lobster stew, ribs, salads and American ales brewed on site. 207-693-6808.

Dinner: Olde Mill Tavern, Main St. in Harrison. Unique southwestern dishes, seafood favorites, roast pork and other hearty meals. 207-583-9077

Rangeley Area
Foliage Spots: Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway on Routes 4 and 17 from Small's Falls to Byron with three scenic turnouts, and Bald Mountain hiking trail from Bald Mountain Road in Oquossoc. www.rangeleymaine.com

Breakfast: BMC Diner, Main Street in Rangeley. Opened in 2003, it's the favorite morning spot for locals, serving large made-from-scratch breakfasts. 207-864-5844

Lunch: Four Seasons Café, Route 4 in Oquossoc. Good Mexican dishes, vegetarian specials and a wood stove to ward off an autumn chill. 207-864-2020

Dinner: The Porter House Restaurant, Route 27 in Eustis. Maine crab cakes with a house coconut curry sauce and orange pineapple salsa, and Chef/Owner Brian Anderson's flame roasted corn and Maine lobster soup with potatoes, fresh herbs and sherry are two local favorites. 207-246-7932

Auburn Area
Foliage Spots: Auburn and its twin city of Lewiston act as the gateway to the Lakes & Mountains Region. For good foliage viewing head north on Route 4 into Turner and Livermore where the colors reflect off lakes and ponds.

Breakfast: Rolly's Diner, 87 Mill St. in Auburn. Popular for its made-from-scratch crepes with five fruit filling options. 207-753-0171

Lunch: DaVinci's Eatery, 150 Mill St. in Lewiston. The best Italian food in the area with a unique location inside a textile mill built in the 1850s. 207-782-2088

Dinner: Sedgley Place, 54 Sedgley Rd. off Route 202 in Greene. Five course dinners served in the relaxing atmosphere of a 1786 Federal home. Fresh local meats and fish, and vegetables from the owner's 80 acre farm. 207-946-5990

New England travel shopping tip: Stonewall Kitchen, the York, Maine, based company, best known for their award-winning Specialty Foods, also offers a wide variety of gourmet foods and gifts, kitchen and cookware, home decor and garden accessories, and recipes. Always Save 10% Off Product of the Month at StonewallKitchen.com.

Maine lodging list, availability and resverations desk

Browse hotels, motels, inns and bed and breakfasts in the following Maine vacation destinations:

Bangor

Bar Harbor, Maine

Bath, Brunswick, Freeport Maine

Camden, Maine

Kennebunkport, Maine

Ogunquit, Maine

Old Orchard Beach, Maine

Portland, Maine

 


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