THURMAN - Ecological tourism is apparently thriving here.
Maple producers in town said Sunday night they enjoyed the largest crowds ever for the annual Thurman Maple Days, held this past weekend along the winding mountainside byways in town.
A featured spring event here for the last four years or so, maple producers give tours of their sugarhouses, explain maple syrup production, and offer breakfasts which include their home-grown syrup atop pancakes.
Marc Kenyon of Adirondack Gold Maple Farm, who gave tours of his operation with his wife Cheryl, said the public turnout over the two-day event was the best ever, whether it was for a local or state-sponsored maple festival.
"It was an incredible weekend," he said. "We had a huge crowd of people - definitely the most that have ever visited for a Maple Weekend."
Mike Hill, who operates Valley Road Maple Farm with Ralph Senecal, agreed Sunday evening that the attendance was the best ever.
"We were so busy - now I'm so tired I can't see straight," he said.
Hill served up pancakes Saturday and Sunday for more than 300 people eating breakfast in his sugarhouse - in addition to giving tours and explaining production techniques.
Randy Galusha of Toad Hill Maple Farm on Charles Olds Road also said he and his wife Jill hosted a record crowd.
"We had an absolutely fantastic turnout," Galusha said, estimating that 400 to 500 people visited his sugarhouse. "We had the largest turnout by far of any Maple Weekend."
Kenyon said the publicity brought out a mix of people from all over the Capital Region as well as local folks.
All ages attended, and Kenyon was a particular hit with the children, Thurman Supervisor Red Pitkin said.
"Mark puts on a great show telling kids about old-time sugaring," Pitkin said. "He's been doing it a long time."
With his long white beard and traditional mountain garb, Kenyon called himself "Tapper the Mountaineer" and encouraged children to help him go through the motions of making syrup.
Kenyon let them hammer spouts into maple trees, prepare buckets for sap collection, and carry buckets of sap back from the "sugarbush" or stands of maple trees in the woods, then pour the sap into the evaporator which boils the clear sap down into thick, savory syrup.
The sugarhouse tours, breakfasts and demonstrations in Thurman continue for the next two weekends, in conjunction with a state-sponsored maple fest.
Hill, legislative coordinator for the New York State Maple Producers Association, said 17 maple producers in the area and 117 across the state will be participating in the state's Maple Weekends these next two weeks.
Hill and Senecal tap about 1,450 trees on a 10-acre sugarbush off Valley Road that the late Hollis Combs operated well into his 90s. Hill and Senecal bought the land and operation in the early 1990s and built a new, larger sugarhouse and have been operating it since.
Like the other producers including the Galushas, the Kenyons and Charlie Wallace, Hill and Senecal produce maple sugar, maple candy and a variety of confections as well as the familiar maple syrup. Special offerings included Cheryl Kenyon's maple chili, the Galushas' maple cream confection and Hill and Senecal's maple cotton candy.
Wallace, who recently opened his sugarhouse on Dippikill Road, used to sugar with Hollis Combs, a legend in his own time. Wallace now produces the dark, traditional syrup as Combs used to make it.
Hill and Senecal use modern techniques, including reverse osmosis which takes about five-sixths of the water out of the sap before its boiled down, saving a lot of fuel.
"When we had record fuel oil prices, reverse osmosis was our savior," Hill said Sunday.
Marc and Cheryl Kenyon use a more old-fashioned fuel. They stoke their wood-fired boilers with split chunks of wood harvested from their property.
Kenyon said that the tradition of tapping trees held fond memories for him.
"The sound of 'plink, plink' in the buckets is the sound of spring as far as I'm concerned," he said.
Pitkin said he agreed with Kenyon.
"Tapping trees is really a 'rite of Spring' out here," he said.
"Boiling down sap, it's a slow time, a time to visit with people, a social celebration of spring as well."
Information on Thurman's Maple Days events can be obtained at www.persisgranger.com/ThurmanMapleWeekends.htm or by calling 623-9718.