Lawnstarter’s fall grading scale — in briefFor this first edition of the study, Lawnstarter carefully considered the limitations imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. We decided to include only “low-COVID-19 risk” factors that allow for social-distancing and therefore maximize safety, given their outdoor nature. Across the five key categories, they would compile 16 total metrics that consider all ages. The final category, Natural Hazards, penalizes the states accordingly for any wildfire or hurricane risk (considering fall is historically wildfire season in the northern and western regions of the U.S. and hurricane season in coastal states). They would add up the scores across all categories and metrics for each of 47 states to arrive at the final ranking. The highest possible score is 100, and the lowest is -70. The state with the highest score was ranked No. 1, or “best state to visit this fall,” while the state with the lowest score was ranked No. 47, or “worst.” There were some limitations in the grading process. Outside of California, Oregon, and Washington’s current wildfire events, the other remaining states would account for risks relating to the current fires. Average expenses for fall activities were not accounted for due to calculation complexities, including adjustments to average income and cost of living. Also not under accounting was “fall weather,” which cannot be measured fairly. Lawnstarter grades each state across five different categories:
Parks and forestsA maximum score of 56 was set for this category. Considerations involve the number of state and national parks and surface area of said parts, which combined accounts for 32 of those points. An additional 8 points are in play for state coverage percentage by national and state parks, with the remaining 16 accounting for total forest area.
EntertainmentA maximum score of 20 was set for this category. Considerations include numbers of apple orchards, corn mazes, pumpkins patches, and wineries. Corn mazes and wineries account for six points apiece. Apple orchards and pumpkin patches account for four points apiece.
TrailsThe three metrics accounting for a maximum score of 22 do not exclusively stipulate that these are only hikable or walkable trails, as one metric appears to stipulate driving. Eight points apiece are based on the numbers of forest trails and scenic drives. Six points are based on hikable trails.
Yard sizeThis is based on one metric — average yard size — which is only worth two points.
Natural hazardsThis is the one and only category that involves negative points. There is a maximum deduction of -70 points. A score application of -50 is for the potential of wildfire risk, especially those in states neighboring the three excluded states from the list. -20 is for states with a hurricane risk in the fall. The risk of hurricanes was calculated based on the corresponding state size.
Key takeaways from the list
New York state of mindThis state is far more than the five boroughs of the Big Apple. Upstate New York has beautiful mountains, pristine lakes, and miles of parks and trails. But in a twist, New York is also our No. 1 destination for fall entertainment. No state has more apple orchards or corn mazes, making the Empire State an ideal place to enjoy your best outdoor life this fall.
Midwest is bestHalf of the top 10 states are in the Midwestern U.S., all with notably top marks in the Entertainment, Hazards, and Forest categories. If you live in the middle of the country, try Michigan, Illinois, or Ohio for calming walks in the woods or to perfect the smile on your carved pumpkin.
Skip the southThree out of the five bottom states are in the South, and they’re all on the coast. This means they’re the biggest targets for less than ideal weather (a quick glance at the news will show you that fall is prime hurricane season). The other low performers are Idaho and Nevada. They’re beautiful states but with less entertainment and fewer outdoor activities like orchards, pumpkin patches, and wineries.
#1 in most parks, forest and entertainment options might not help muchAlaska has the most parks and forests in the nation, mostly due to its secluded areas outside of the cities and towns. However, Alaska lacks entertainment options, yard size, and trails. Additionally, they also have the highest natural hazards as high and low temperatures in parts of the state start to decline by November. November is the worst month in the fall to attempt to travel in Alaska due to freezing temperatures outside of Juneau, the capital city. Alaska ranks second overall. New York has the most entertainment options to take the top spot. The Empire State has a decent number of state and national parks to take the fifth spot. They took third in the number of trails. Yard size isn’t the greatest if you live in the metropolitan centers; however, if you live in rural communities, that would be a different story. Although not always common, parts of the state could be susceptible to hurricanes. For example, Hurricane Sandy from late October 2012 would result in significant damage to the greater New York City metropolitan area. Despite those issues, New York is first overall.
Bigger yards isn’t always better alone; neither is having a large number of trails aloneBigger yards in Texas aren’t always better — and their mantra is “everything’s bigger in Texas.” With moderate entertainment options (6th), a fair number of parks and forests (8th), and trails (11th), it doesn’t quite make up for their shortcomings. The Lone Star State is not immune from natural hazards, with coastal cities and inland parts of the state at risk of hurricanes. Considering a history where hurricanes can hit the state through November, it’s often a high risk in the fall. Hurricane Rita from 15 years ago to date (2005), Hurricane Ike and the near-fall Hurricane Harvey are all clear signs about hurricane dangers. Texas is 15th overall. Colorado, despite having a great number of trails is lacking in others and is a wildfire danger. The state is lacking in state and national parks (25th), entertainment options (18th) and yard size (14th). Its own risk of wildfires ranks the state 19th in natural dangers. Despite those negatives, Colorado is fifth overall.
Maybe #1 in natural dangers doesn’t mean you think it meansPerhaps the six additional states tying with Alaska for first in natural dangers isn’t a bad thing. It could be a lack of natural dangers in the fall. Potentially, it could a low level of natural dangers. Illinois, Indiana, Hawaii, Iowa, Nebraska, and North Dakota are among these states but have their own fair share of issues. Illinois, Hawaii, and Indiana are among the top 20 states on the list overall. Iowa, Nebraska, and North Dakota rank 23rd, 27th, and 29th respectively. This survey includes information from the National Park Service, USDA Forest Service, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, and National Center for Disaster Preparedness. Additional information comes from terragalleria.com, playgroundequipment.com, funtober.com, and pumpkinpatchesandmore.org.
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Jake Leonard, a broadcast media and journalism veteran, is the editor-in-chief of Heartland Newsfeed. Leonard is also GM and program director of Heartland Newsfeed Radio Network, wrestling editor and contributing writer for Ambush Sports, a contributing writer for My Sports Vote and Midwest Sports Network, and a former contributor to Bleacher Report and Overtime Heroics. He resides at home in Nokomis, Ill. with his dog Buster.