Mike Farrell, the Director of Cornell's Uihlein Field Station, explains the process of tapping a tree at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake.
On Feb. 25, The Wild Center held a free “Art of Maple Sugaring Breakfast and Workshop” to kick off its community maple sugar initiative.
Many braved the snowy conditions to come for free sausage and pancakes (not to mention maple cotton candy) and to learn about the process of making maple sugar products and The Wild Center’s plan to build a community maple sugar program in Tupper Lake.
Interested residents of Tupper Lake can join the project and will receive a loaner maple tap and bucket to help get them started. Residents then tap their own maple trees, the sap from which Wild Center volunteers pick up regularly during the maple sugar season, which is beginning now.
The sap is then boiled down to maple syrup by The Wild Center using their evaporator, and the community member and the museum split the resulting syrup.
“It fits our mission of connecting people with nature,” Jen Kretser, Director of Programs at the museum, said. “We’ve also been working hard with our farm markets and festivals to connect people to the local food movement as well, and this is a great example of that.”
Tupper Lake was once a hub of maple sugaring and Wild Center Executive Director Stephanie Radcliffe points out that the sustainable use of the forests for that purpose could be revived.
“It helps keep the working forest working,” Radcliffe said. “The logging industry was part of the community – if we can ramp up maple sugaring, that can be too. It is an area of untapped potential – pun intended.”
The museum hopes to enlist one hundred residents in the project this year, with plans for growth in both manpower and equipment as the program expands.
“It can be a fun thing for participants to do in the backyard with their kids or something to supplement income,” Radcliffe said. “I love seeing the intergenerational exchange of info. A lot of people are here because they saw their grandparents do it.”
Ron Cloutier and his son, Andrew, are one such intergenerational pairing planning to tap their trees as part of the program.
“I think it’s a great idea to help the town – to get people out and involved in the community,” Andrew said.
“I’ve tapped some maple on my own. I’m looking for ways to make the process more productive and efficient,” Ron added.
In conjunction with the community program, The Wild Center will be running maple-themed programs throughout the late winter and early spring.
“The evaporator will be running, and we’ll also be taking part in New York State Maple Weekend on March 17th, 18th, 24th, and 25th,” Kretser said.
The next workshop for the program is March 17. While the tasty pancake breakfast and educational programs are open to anyone, the community program is only open to residents of Tupper Lake in order to help with program expediency.
“We are really super excited to be doing this,” Kretser said.
That excitement was shared by workshop participants as well who will have to decide what to do with their maple syrup.
Ron Cloutier may have summed it up best.
“I’m probably just going to be eating mine.”
For more information, see www.wildcenter.org or call 518-359-7800.