Students discover sweet secrets


OWENSVILLE – The Clermont Park District shared the secret of maple syrup with kindergarten kids from Clermont Northeastern last week.

They got an introduction to photosynthesis in the Pattison Lodge before heading outside for some experiential learning in the field, on the sugar bush trail and in the sugar shack.

On consecutive afternoons Feb. 20 and 21, some of our youngest, most energetic fans enjoyed seeing how syrup lands on their tables.

At one station, students learned the legend of how Native Americans discovered the sweet sap of the sugar maple tree. They also simulated using hot stones to boil the sap in a hollowed-out log and carrying buckets to a cauldron via a yoke.

In the sugar shack, students saw the wood-fired evaporator in action. Collected sap – which has a sugar content of about 2.5 percent – goes in one end, boils and reduces in volume while increasing in sugar content.

That labor-intensive process takes about 40 gallons of sap to create a single gallon of syrup.

In addition, they got to taste sap, maple tea (which has been boiled down a bit to make the clear sap darker), some maple syrup and some maple candy. The solid sugar candy comes from boiling away all the liquids from the sap.

On the sugar bush trail, children saw the tools of the trade in action and had a chance to operate a hand drill to bore into a sugar maple tree. They also saw how to clean the resulting hole, insert a spile and hang a bucket to catch the drippings.

Cold nights – below freezing – followed by warmer, sunny days gets the sap flowing and filling up the buckets.

The Park District has more maple programming in store, too.

The popular Hikes with Tykes series returns from 11 a.m. to noon Friday, Feb. 28, at Pattison Lodge. Recommended for ages 2 to 6, the tykes will take a short guided hike through the sugar bush trail to search for maple trees, sweet sap and woodpeckers. Then hikers head inside to explore maple syrup and sap with sensory activities and a craft.

From 2 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 29, check out Discovery Days: Art and Tools of Maple Sugaring. Recommended for ages 6 to 14, discover how to tap a sugar maple tree, find and prepare its sap and learn the art of turning sap into syrup. You’ll get to taste some of the finished product. Be prepared to be outside for a short hike.

And the biggest event of maple season is getting close. The 15th annual Pancakes in the Park runs 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, March 14, at the Pattison Lodge. Tickets are $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, $3 for children 6 to 12 and free for kids 5 and younger.

Tickets are available at the door and include pancakes, sausage, real maple syrup and beverages. In addition to the meal, guests may tour the sugar bush trail and sugar shack, see demonstrations on making syrup, pioneer demonstrations by the Grassy Run Historical Arts Society, enjoy naturalist displays and more.