End of maple syrup signals beginning of spring

By Mike Colamarino

Darke County Parks

Spring is here! The “Waffle Breakfast” presented by the Friends of the Darke County Parks signals the end of the maple syrup season here at the Darke County Parks. We had a great turnout this year with over 600 visitors enjoying the waffle breakfast and guided maple tours. In Ohio, the only thing to harvest in January is maple sap. Maple trees produce 15-20 gallons of extra sap each year, and with a little knowledge and a lot of hard work, it turns out to be one of the sweetest.

Hundreds of hours from volunteers and park staff were focused into one delicious goal; making maple syrup! In preparation to boil, 20 cords of firewood are split and stacked to use as our primary fuel source. After collecting sap from maple trees around the county, maple syrup was cooked the entire month of February at Shawnee Prairie Preserve. Starting wood fires and stoking our custom-built evaporator becomes the new morning routine here at Shawnee Prairie.

When I first started working for the Park District back in 2019, maple syrup boiling was my first program. I fell in love with the simple honest work that goes into taking something as raw as tree sap and turning it into delicious syrup. The bellowing clouds of steam and sweet scent of maple fills the air. Seasoned fire wood crackling and embers flying connects you to something primal. You wonder if your ancestors were doing something similar hundreds of years ago. After 4 weeks of early mornings and late nights, we were able to turn 3000 gallons of maple sap into more than 50 gallons of maple syrup. This maple syrup is sold after the Waffle Breakfast at all of our Darke County Parks gift shops, including Bish Discovery Center, Historic Bear’s Mill, and of course the Shawnee Prairie Nature Center.

As the maple syrup season comes to an end, so too does winter. As we continue moving full force into spring, warm weather, rainy days, and fresh spring flowers signal the start of a fruitful summer. Spring is an extremely exciting time for most of us here in Darke County, and the Park District is no exception. We have been working diligently all winter to implement a variety of enhancements to our parks and bike trails. If you had a chance to drive up the entrance road to Shawnee Prairie last summer you probably noticed 2 long rows of wildflowers. Buzzing and full of color, these pollinator strips are as beneficial as they are beautiful. Providing food and habitat for birds, butterflies, native pollinating insects, and wildlife. We loved these pollinator flowers so much that we are planning to add them to many of our surrounding parks and bike trails this spring. One of the most exciting additions we are working on is a new natural play area at Alice Bish Park in Greenville, Ohio. If you frequent the bike trail in Greenville, you have most likely noticed the equipment and freshly mulched brush as you enter the parking lot of Alice Bish Park. Natural play areas are a great family friendly way to explore nature and get some refreshing exercise.

We have an exciting new event planned this year, “Bash at Bish” scheduled to take place June 24. This event will be fun for the whole family with engaging activities such as a BMX show, tree climbing, paddling, food trucks, and the grand opening of some new exhibits and displays inside the Bish Discovery Center to name a few. The maintenance crew has already begun prepping areas for this event.

For many of our parks and preserves we are enhancing the immersive experience visitors can have by adding new trails, bridges, bird houses, park benches, and eliminating invasive plants and brush. Several prairies have been cut and to make room for new rich growth. Some must-see prairies this summer include Winterrowd Wetlands, Shawnee Prairie Preserve, Turkeyfoot Preserve, Eidson Woods Preserve, and Worth Family Nature Preserve. I look forward to seeing everyone out in the parks this year.