Maple Sugar Madness

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While we can’t hold a candle to Vermont’s maple syrup production (in 2010, the state harvested nearly 900,000 gallons of the stuff), few people realize that Ohio is consistently ranked as one of the top maple producers in the United States. We have a sweet sugar history stretching back to the days long before European settlers crossed the Ohio River: Native American tribes like the Iroquois to the north and the Shawnee here in the Ohio River Valley first discovered the sweet sap hidden within native maple trees. Settlers in the region developed their own tapping methods, and by 1840, Ohio was the largest maple producing state.

This February and March you can head out to parks both near and far to experience everything from tree tapping to sap boiling (and ultimately, the delicious drizzling of this centuries-old treat).

Here are a few such events that come but once a year:

1. Maple Syrup Making and Sap Collecting at the Cincinnati Nature Center: February 28, and March 7
Take a guided hike into the sugar bush to see sap collecting in action. Then, visit a working sugar house where you can breathe in the maple scented steam and warm up by the evaporator. Bonus: Stop by the Nature Center to grab a scavenger hunt list or enjoy the Mashburn Family Discovery Trail. cincynature.org

2. Maple Sugar Days at Farbach-Werner Nature Preserve: February 28 and March 1
Watch the tree-to-table process unfold through a tour of the sugar bush and demonstrations. Enjoy a craft or sample some maple sugar treats, like waffles or ice cream. Bonus: Visit Nature’s Niche Gifts and Books for a great selection of nature-themed games, toys, books, and even some Charley Harper collectibles. greatparks.org

3. National Maple Syrup Festival, Brown County, Indiana: March 5-8
This one is definitely a day trip (Brown County is about two hours west of Cincinnati), but the festivities and fun are well worth the drive. Start your day at Brown County State Park, where you can watch tree tapping and sap boiling done by descendants of the Delaware and Shawnee Native American tribes, and by French Colonial reenactors who will demonstrate how early settlers changed the process. Take a nature hike and learn how to identify a maple tree during the leafless winter months, or sample the Dutch Oven Diva’s sweet and savory treats prepared over a stone fireplace. Then, head to downtown Nashville (Indiana, that is), and visit the Pioneer Village or do some shopping-the local stores and restaurants will be featuring maple-related food and fare, from chocolates and beers, to pottery and paintings. Bonus: Stop by Brown County High School and try your hand at catching a pancake flipped from 20 yards away! Chris Cakes, the traveling pancake cooking show, will be flipping up cakes on the mornings of March 7th and 8th. nationalmaplesyrupfestival.com

4. Hueston Woods State Park Maple Syrup Festival: March 7 and 8, 14 and 15
Start your day with a pancake breakfast at the Hueston Woods Lodge, and then take a trip back in time with a visit to the Pioneer Village for a hayride, followed by a hike through the woods where you’ll get a lesson on the cultural and historical role of maple syrup in the area. Bonus: Stop by the Nature Center to meet Timber and Eli, the center’s rescued cougar and bobcat, and learn about their Raptor Rehabilitation Program. huestonwoodslodge.com

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