Maple syrup: Tapping into a rite of spring in Minnesota, Ohio

If you’ve ever done the taste test — maple syrup vs. artificial syrup — chances are, you would never go back.

It explains why maple syrup is big business in parts of the country — the Northeast, in particular.

Amber gold.

(Minnesota DNR photo)

The maple syrup harvest is a rite of spring in Minnesota, too. But, for the most part, it’s not the serious business it is in the Northeast. There, maple syrup types from national harvest leader Vermont to New York and Pennsylvania are feeling the pressure, and impact, of climate change, with winters becoming warmer and frigid nights critical to their business becoming fewer.

No, in Minnesota, it’s a bit more laid back, highlighted by dozens of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources educational programs. But there is a frenzied side to it, too.

That’s how it is with maple syrup. When the conditions are right, it runs. And that run is usually short-lived. So many of the maple syrup events scheduled at Minnesota State Parks are, ultimately, at the mercy of Mother Nature.

According to a news release from the DNR, historically, the best time to collect sap is when temperatures are in the high 30s to mid-40s during the day and below freezing at night, and typically between mid-March and mid-April. But according to reports, with unseasonably warm weather of late, sap has been running for a few weeks. Maple syrup harvesters reportedly have been adapting to the early run and tapping trees in southern Minnesota. And with another round of winter just hitting the southern part of the state, there’s the potential for a second run of sap, the reports said.

As of today (Friday, Feb. 24), the kickoff to the DNR’s maple syrup program season is still a go — “Maple Syrup Making for the Whole Family” is scheduled at 10 a.m. and again at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25 at Whitewater State Park near Elba (to sign up, call 507-932-3007, ext. 226, or email sara.holger@state.mn.us). In all, about two-dozen maple syrup-related events are scheduled at Minnesota state parks between Saturday and April 8. (For the complete schedule and/or more information, go to www.mndnr.gov/maplesyrup.)

Surprisingly, there are no maple syrup festivities at the granddaddy of Minnesota state parks in 2017. In past years, lead naturalist Connie Cox and other staffers led maple syrup events at Minnesota’s oldest state park. To kick off those gatherings at Itasca, each attendee was invited to sample the contents of two small cups — both filled with dark amber liquids, but of a different variety — and asked if they could tell which was real maple syrup and which was the fake stuff.

Most knew the difference. But for the few who had never tried the real stuff, it was an awakening.

In Ohio, which is regarded as one of the top maple syrup-harvesting states in the country, such events are big, too — festival big. Both Malabar Farm State Park and Hueston Woods State Park will be celebrating their own Maple Syrup Festival on consecutive weekends (March 4-5 at Malabar in Richland County and March 11-12 at Hueston in Preble County. Also scheduled March 11-12 is Maple Sugaring at Hocking Hills State Park in Hocking County).

At Malabar, visitors can take horse-drawn wagon rides to Sugar Camp, see maple syrup demonstrations and enjoy music and food. At Hueston, festival-goers can enjoy concessions, maple syrup tours, hay rides, and hikes through the nearby Big Woods State Nature Preserve. Maple syrup is the centerpiece but not the only piece of these celebrations.

For more on these events and others at Ohio state parks, go to parks.ohiodnr.gov/calendar.

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