It’s maple sugaring season at local Metroparks– a Michigan tradition that signifies spring is coming.

Maple sugaring is the process of extracting a sugar solution from maple trees, heating the solution to remove excess water and then reducing the sap, which creates a flavorful syrup or a granulated sugar. Any maple tree can be tapped to make maple syrup, although many like sugar maple trees because sap doesn’t have to be boiled as long to get to a sugar solution. Trees must be a certain size and at least 40 years old, which is the starting point. Maple sugaring season is typically in March at the Metroparks, but it all depends on the weather and there needs to be the right combination of temperatures. Different maple trees do make a difference but many prefer sugar maple trees because they have more sugar in their sap. A “sugarbush” is an area where there are a lot of maple trees in one designated area.

Huron-Clinton Metroparks highlights the maple sugaring process every year and all parks have their own unique programs to celebrate the season but each offers a different experience. Western District Interpretive Services Supervisor Victoria Taylor-Sluder says it’s a very labor and fuel intensive process. She says the real maple syrup that people purchase and enjoy is all produced in the same way and only during this one time of the year. Real maple syrup is unique, like honey, in that nothing is added to it. Hudson Mills and Kensington Metroparks offer programs each weekend through the month of March. Taylor-Sluder tells WHMI some have become such a tradition that they’ve been going on for decades. A portion takes place outdoors along with opportunities for activities inside but attendees are generally not outside for longer than an hour. All local programs include an element of visiting maple trees, understanding the process and seeing it at “evaporator” locations where sap is being boiled. Taylor-Sluder says one of the wonderful things about maple sugaring is that it’s multi-sensory in that people get to see and smell the great smells of maple, plus everyone is offered a taste. She says anyone can come out and see the process of holes being drilled in trees in certain locations before a spout is inserted. If the sap is running, then different collection methods are used such as buckets.

Taylor-Sluder says maple sugaring has so many different levels of interest from nature, science, history and culinary aspects of the process that it appeals to the very young and the young at heart. She says it’s also a great reason to get outside and beat cabin fever but there’s something interesting in it for everyone. Taylor-Sluder says it’s something very unique and a great activity to get outside and experience a Pure Michigan tradition. She noted we’re lucky to live in what can be called the “maple belt” as there really aren’t very many other places in the world where people can do this – just this one area of the Midwest being the Great Lakes and then the Appalachians. She says no place else has the right conditions combined so we are pretty lucky to have this in Michigan and it’s one reason to enjoy that slow change from winter to spring that they call maple sugaring season.

More information about maple sugaring, fun facts and program details can be found though the link. Photos: Huron-Clinton Metroparks. (JM)