LIMA — The yellow-bellied sapsucker, a harbinger of spring, has made its way to the area just in time for the Maple Syrup Festival at McLean Teddy Bear Park.
“(It’s) one of the first birds that migrate through the winter and they tap the trees with their bills and they end up getting some sap — that’s why they’re a sapsucker,” said Chris Fetzer, volunteer coordinator for the Johnny Appleseed Metro Park District.
That sap can be turned into maple syrup and the festival is way to explain how the process has evolved throughout the years.
“We’ve been doing it since 1976. It started out here at Teddy Bear Park. The sap will be running as long as the sun stays out. We have 50 taps throughout the park and we have taken a lot of sap off the trees already this year. It’s been a good year for sap. We’re just excited for people to get to know how real maple syrup is produced. Not this Log Cabin and Aunt Jemima stuff,” Fetzer said.
The process is fairly simple, but it takes 50 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup.
“We’ve got six stations in the woods set up where you can learn how the Native Americans did it and then they eventually taught the early pioneers how to make maple syrup, but they brought iron pots along and made it a lot easier,” Fetzer said.
Over at the sugar shack, the real magic occurs.
“Well this is an evaporator,” said Greg Zack, park supervisor. “This is a small example size that we use here. Normally a business size would be 20 by 10 or bigger, but we just use this for demonstration. You take the raw sap, put it in the pre-warmer. The sap goes in with the heat in the boiling steam coming off, it starts to go across and as it works across the cooker, it will thicken and eventually becomes (maple) stir.”
The Maple Syrup Festival, along with the Apple Festival in the fall, come around every two years.
“People ask why we do both our Apple Festival and Maple Festival on even-numbered years. This way we catch a third grader this year (in the spring) and a fourth-grader next year (in the fall). And it works out well for us from the scheduling standpoint and it keeps it fresh, it doesn’t get old for people,” said Kevin Haver, executive director of the parks district.
The Maple Syrup Festival continues Sunday from noon until 5 p.m. Admission is free.
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.