WHEELING - Sweet sap is flowing in the Oglebay sugar bush, and naturalists at Oglebay Institute's Schrader Environmental Education Center have been working hard to prepare for the upcoming harvest of maple syrup, which the public can enjoy during the annual Maple Sugaring Day.
Maple Sugaring Day takes place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, March 23 in the woods behind Camp Russel in Oglebay Park. Local residents can learn about maple syrup production and its history and enjoy a pancake breakfast with fresh maple syrup.
During the warmer months, maple trees produce starches, which they store in their roots throughout the winter, explained Schrader Center naturalist Greg Park. As spring approaches, the tree converts these starches to sugars, which are carried to the rest of the tree in a fluid called sap. Sap flows through a portion of the outer trunk called the sapwood, which is pressurized during the spring when temperatures rise above freezing during the day and drop below freezing at night. These fluctuations cause the sap to rise and allow us to safely collect sap without damaging the tree. When collected and processed, this sap becomes the maple syrup we all enjoy.
During Oglebay Institute’s Maple Sugaring Day on Saturday, March 23, nature guides will lead groups through Oglebay’s sugar bush, stopping along the trail to discover maple sugaring techniques from its earliest history through present day. Pictured is naturalist Greg Park explaining to a group of hikers how Native Americans discovered “sweet water,” flowing from maple trees.
"Here at the Schrader Center, we are putting the finishing touches on this year's first batch of maple syrup," Park explained. "Sap was collected from our local stand of Sugar Maples. The scientific name for this species is Acer saccharum. The sap is boiled in an evaporator. The evaporator boils away the water from the sap and leaves behind sticky, sweet syrup. It takes about forty gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup."
Each year, hundreds of people enjoy the hands-on, outdoor Maple Sugaring Day program, which includes a nature walk, demonstrations of sugaring techniques, the history of maple sugaring, and socializing around a boiling sap evaporator. The event concludes with a pancake breakfast that includes your choice of buckwheat or regular pancakes with fresh syrup, sausage, juice or coffee. There will also be live music and a pancake-flipping contest.
The program begins in the woods behind Camp Russel. Nature guides will lead groups through Oglebay's sugar bush, stopping along the trail to discover maple-sugaring techniques from its earliest history through present day. Trail guides depart from the Camp Russel parking lot every half hour beginning at 9 a.m. The last group leaves at 12:30 p.m.
Visitors will learn how Native Americans discovered this "sweet water" and the methods they used to harvest it. They will hear about colonial methods of sap tapping and try drilling holes with old-fashioned bits and braces. They will see how wooden taps, known as spiles, were made to allow sap to flow from tree to bucket. They will learn about current pipeline techniques and watch how maple sap is boiled down into syrup.
Event organizers say that the program continues to grow in popularity each year and recommend making advanced reservations.
"The event is limited to the first 300 people," said Schrader Center director Alice Eastman. "The event has sold out for the past few years. Also, those who pre-register are given a time slot for their tour, which eliminates waiting time for participants."
Program support for Maple Sugaring Day was provided by Oglebay Institute Executive Business Member Direct Online Marketing. For information on membership or ways to support OI programs, call 304-242-4200.
Admission to Maple Sugaring Day is $7. Members of Oglebay Institute receive a discount. Boots and appropriate outdoor clothing are recommended.
To purchase tickets and reserve a time slot, call the Schrader Center at 304.242.6855 or visit online at www.oionline.com.