MapleFest at Red Oak Taps Sweet Taste of Spring — For Free
Get a sample of real maple syrup this Saturday.
OK, Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Butterworth – fess up.
You both have terrific smiles and look great on the breakfast table next to a stack of pancakes. But yours is not real maple syrup.
Real maple syrup actually comes from trees. How, you ask? Find out this Saturday (March 16) at Red Oak Nature Center, which hosts its annual MapleFest from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The Red Oak Nature Center is located on Route 25, one mile north of Route 56.
Children and adults alike can appreciate the centuries-old tradition of tapping maple trees and collecting sap for syrup – a practice that dates back to Native American times and continues with today’s modern sugaring industry.
Demonstrations at Red Oak will be staged at the top of every hour as visitors venture into the surrounding woods to insert taps into maple trees, collect sap in buckets and then return to the nature center, where the sap will be simmered over an open fire and thickened into syrup. A little taste-testing will be in order, too.
Better yet, the event is absolutely free. Just show up with a sweet tooth.
Maple-themed treats and beverages will be available for a small fee, including items from Vermont – the maple syrup-producing capital of America – with small bottles of authentic maple syrup, maple doughnuts and maple jerky.
Sugaring season is already in full swing. Normally, the season lasts four to six weeks, ending when the trees bud – a sign that the sap will turn from sweet to bitter.
“It’s been a cool spring, and now is about the perfect time to collect sap,” said Margaret Gazdacka, facility supervisor at Red Oak. “The sap is rising daily, and it’s running clear.”
Sap is basically food for the tree – sugar and minerals – that is stored in its roots. Mild spring days and frosty nights are what get the sap flowing. The freeze-thaw cycle and daily fluctuation in temperatures cause the maples to pull water from the soil through their roots. Then, the warmer daytime temperatures cause pressure to develop within the tree, forcing sap to run from the roots to branches.
When a tap hole is drilled into the tree’s trunk, internal pressure forces the sap to flow out, much like blood from a cut. At commercial farms, the sap is drained via plastic tubing and pipelines to the production site called a sugar house. But for the small-scale demonstrations at Red Oak, a simple plastic bucket is used to collect and transport sap after the tree is tapped.
On average, it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of pure maple syrup. Kids often ask if drilling holes and drawing sap harms the trees.
In actuality, sap is a renewable resource; maple syrup production is a highly sustainable activity because the tap hole captures a very small portion of the tree’s sap –and the tap hole heals, barely leaving a scar. Under the right conditions, maple trees can live to be hundreds of years old.
Many “sugarmakers” in the syrup-producing zones such as Vermont, New Hampshire and Quebec are tapping the same trees that were tapped many times by generations before them.
MapleFest is a wonderful intergenerational event for grandpa, grandma and the grandkids – a seasonal passage from winter to spring, where everybody can share and explore the art, science and folklore of “sugaring.”
Just think … when one of these young school children returns to Red Oak a few decades from now for MapleFest 2032, they’ll be able to tell their young ones a “when-I-was-your-age” story about seeing the same maple tree being tapped.
Those stories, like the legend of maple syrup, never get old.
Jeff Long is the public relations manager for the Fox Valley Park District. Contact him email@example.com
Fox Valley Park District Upcoming Events
Saturday, March 16: MapleFest, Red Oak Nature Center, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Saturday, March 23: Easter Egg Bone Hunt for Dogs, Blackberry Farm, 10 to 11 a.m.
Saturday, March 23: Bunny Brunch, Prisco Community Center, 10:30 a.m. to noon
Thursday, March 28: Spring Break Talent Show Performance, Prisco Community Center, 7 p.m.
Saturday, March 30: 5K Spring Gallop, Blackberry Farm, 8:30 to 10 a.m.