By DL PERRIN
LAGRANGE — The steam from boiling sap rose from multiple sources over at Maplewood Nature Center all day Saturday and Sunday. Scott Beam, resident LaGrange County Parks naturalist, was busy restocking supplies, emptying trash and welcoming visitors. It was Maple Syrup Days, one of the largest fundraisers for the parks and the South Milford Lions Club.
“This is our 24th annual,” said Beam as he walked by, munching on a sausage and waving at a few tables. “It’s my 22nd.” The event grows each year and the need for volunteers grows with it. “We have over 200 trees we tapped and this morning we pulled in 1,200 gallons with volunteers. It is very labor intensive work. We will do it again today.”
Standing in line waiting for one of the three horse-drawn park tours was Dominic Hostetler and his dad Dave from Shipshewana. “This one is full to the brim Dad,” Dominic yelled as he waved his dad over to look under the debris shield on a hanging sap bucket. “They better haul this one in pretty soon and make some syrup.”
Dominic said he really enjoys the event. “This is my second trip,” he said. “I came out with my class already. It (sap) doesn’t taste good when it first comes out. I like it when it is ready to put on pancakes and waffles.”
There were plenty of chances to sample the syrup as the Lions do an all-you-can-eat pancake and sausage breakfast from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. on both days. Tours of the sap house with the huge wood fired sap boiler are ongoing and a puppet show for the kids is featured every hour.
“I thought the puppet show was really, really funny,” giggled 6-year-old Ethan Sheffield from Garrett. “Now I am going to eat this many pancakes,” he measured a tall stack with his hands.
Leaning over three steaming vats of boiling sap outside the sugar house was maple syrup enthusiast, Mary Franke. “I work at Lima Brighton Elementary and we come out her and volunteer for the parks every year,” she said. “We bring out our own equipment and do demonstrations for visitors and the parks let us have the sap from a couple of trees we tap for our own syrup every year. I used to work for the parks department. This is one activity I really enjoy. It takes a lot of work and a long time. You have to boil, depending on viscosity, from 30 to 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup.”
Doing the same thing next to Franke was the Smith family. All were dressed in period costume and their sap boiled from a huge iron caldron suspended from a tripod.
Little Prairie Smith pushed back her filed bonnet to get a better angle on her plate of syrup drenched pancakes as her sister Emmylou warmed herself in her homespun shawl. Dad Aaron stoked the fire and Mom Sadie sat ready to ladle the sap into jugs and tell the sap to syrup story to anyone of the many curious by-standers. The Smiths also tap the park trees in return for maple syrup demonstrations during the weekend.
“I like dressing up and eating pancakes,” Prairie said. She wasn’t alone. The park estimates this to be a record year, well over the 4,000 visitors of last year.
Maple Wood Nature Center is located at 4550 E. 100 South, 4.5 miles east and 1 mile south of LaGrange.