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HOT LINES TO FALL FOLIAGE

Who can say how the hot, dry summer will affect the timing and appearance of autumn's colors?

Don Smith, for one. He's the chief of Connecticut's Bureau of Forestry, and he's predicting the state's peak foliage viewing will come a bit earlier this year.

"The summer's drought has been punctuated by just enough rain to ensure beautiful foliage," according to Smith, who's quoted in a state news release. "But the upper ridges and swamp maples may come into their fall colors early because of low moisture levels." Smith thinks the slight move-up will make Columbus Day weekend, Oct. 9-11, prime time in Connecticut.

As with all states, the pattern varies depending on altitude, moisture, temperature and other factors, and most states have more than one region. Maine, for instance, has seven, and Yankee magazine's September issue examines them in detail as part of its New England foliage issue.

New England diners -- essential for many leaf-peepers -- are the focus of another story. The issue can be ordered by calling (800) 288-4284, or is on newsstands at big bookstores. Even more information is available at Yankee's Web site, www.newengland.com

Another site reporting on large areas is the U.S. Forest Service posting at www.fs.fed.us/news/fall.shtml

Callers can get the Forest Service updates for conditions around the country at (800) 354-4595.

Here's a list of foliage hot lines, with state Web sites. (Leaf reports generally don't begin until the color changes begin, so try back if necessary.)

Maine, (888) 624-6345; Web site www.visitmaine.com/foliage. html

New Hampshire, (800) 258-3608 and (800) 262-6660; www. visitnh.gov

Vermont, (802) 828-3239

Massachusetts, (800) 227-6277; www.mass-vacation.com

Rhode Island, (401) 222-2601; www.visitrhodeisland.com

Connecticut, (800) 282-6863; www.ctbound.org

New York State, (800) 225-5697; iloveny.state.ny.us

Pennsylvania, (800) 325-5467; www.state.pa.us/visit

New Jersey, (609) 984-0370; www.state.nj.us/travel