Sweet time at the prairie


GREENVILLE – It’s maple sugarin’ time again, when the cold nights and warm days get the sap flowing in the maple trees, and the sweet amber liquid that adorns your morning stack of pancakes is the delicious final result.

Darke County Parks hosted the annual Maple Sugarin’ Festival at Shawnee Prairie Preserve on Saturday to show area residents just how it’s done.

The event kicked off with a waffle breakfast presented by the Friend of the Parks, with a hearty meal of waffles, sausage, juice, coffee and local pure maple syrup. Guests could then take a maple sugar tour to learn how the syrup was made and had the opportunity to purchase a variety of homemade goodies made with syrup produced right there at Shawnee Prairie.

Roger Van Frank, director of the Parks, said the event has grown in popularity about every year since it started in 2004.

“There are a lot of sugar camps around here – in Hueston Woods, in Miami County, a lot of places here in (Darke) county – and we started talking about sugaring and wanted to do something here,” Van Frank said of the origins of the event. Like so many park programs, the maple sugaring event is about preserving history and preserving the information to be passed down to a new generation.

“It’s also about the history of agriculture,” Van Frank said. “And that’s very important here.”

It’s not only educational, of course, but it’s entertaining, too.

“It’s a fun function for us,” Van Frank said.

About 50 volunteers and virtually the entire staff at Shawnee Prairie pitched in for the event, including dressing up as pioneers from 200 years ago to share the uses of maple syrup in pioneer life. By the end of the day, Van Frank said probably about 750 people would come through for the event.

The process of making maple syrup is not an easy one. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of syrup.

The trees are tapped by drilling a hole into the wood about two inches deep and inserting a spout. A bucket is hung under the spout to collect the sap. The sap is collected at least daily, filtered, then boiled down into syrup. The hot syrup is then filtered again and bottled.

Gary James, a park volunteer, said sugaring time is nearly at an end for the year.

“Yesterday (Friday) we had about 30 gallons (of sap from the maple trees at Shawnee Prairie),” James said. “One day last week, we had 300.”

The maple sugaring event is really just the beginning of the parks season though. As the weather warms up, there are lots of program on the calendar to learn more about history and nature in a variety of fun and entertaining ways.

The Parks offer classroom field trips designed to enhance and supplement Ohio’s science curriculum for elementary students. Educators interested in arranging a trip should contact Chief Naturalist Robb Clifford at the parks.

The Parks also offer the opportunity for teachers to invite a naturalist to the classroom to present programs on a number of natural history themes focused on native wildlife. These can be arranged by contacting Mandy Martin.

On April 29, Shawnee Prairie will host a special Civil War program for eighth graders with morning and afternoon sessions available. Class reservations are available on a first-come first-served basis. Contact Hannah Linebaugh to make a reservation.

A variety of programs also are available to the public, some of which require advance registration., including the preschool programs, Park P.A.L.S. and the Junior Naturalists. Springtime program s for adults will include an archeology book signing, rock art and fitness programs.

For details on the programs and a full calendar of events, visit darkecountyparks.org. Program registration can be made by calling 937-548-0165.

Kimberly McCurdy and her daughter, Eliana, of Greenville, at right, watch as Ray Bradbury and Eric Strait show how sap from the sugar maples is boiled down to produce maple syrup in the Sugar Shack at Shawnee Prairie Nature Preserve Saturday.
https://www.dailyadvocate.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/web1_webmaple1.jpgKimberly McCurdy and her daughter, Eliana, of Greenville, at right, watch as Ray Bradbury and Eric Strait show how sap from the sugar maples is boiled down to produce maple syrup in the Sugar Shack at Shawnee Prairie Nature Preserve Saturday. Rachel Lloyd | The Daily Advocate

https://www.dailyadvocate.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/web1_webmaple2.jpg Rachel Lloyd | The Daily Advocate

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https://www.dailyadvocate.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/web1_webmaple4.jpg Rachel Lloyd | The Daily Advocate

https://www.dailyadvocate.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/web1_webmaple5.jpg Rachel Lloyd | The Daily Advocate
Parks host maple sugaring event

Reach the writer at 937-569-4354 or on Twitter @RachelLloydGDA. Join the conversation at Facebook.com/Advocate360 or visit our website at www.dailyadvocate.com.

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