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From sap to syrup: Volunteers tap in Minnesota park's maple trees

When the high temperatures rise above freezing and the daily lows stay below freezing, the sap starts to run in maple trees. On Saturday, April 6, at Maplewood State Park near Pelican Rapids, Minn., the volunteer group, Friends of Maplewood, put on a demonstration to show how maple sap is captured and made into maple syrup.

"The sap started running about two weeks ago. But in the woods, the snow was so deep, a lot of people didn't do anything with their trees right away because they couldn't get to them. But now it's very active. The average flow is probably 10 to 25 days out of the year," said Robin Johnson of Pelican Rapids. Johnson has volunteered with Friends of Maplewood for the past two years and showed attendees how to tap maple trees to capture the sap.

"You go an inch and a half into the tree to get into the sapwood. The sapwood is the part of the tree where most of that flow is going to happen," said Johnson.

It takes 40 gallons of sap from a sugar maple tree to make 1 gallon of syrup. Sap can be collected from birch or box elder trees, also in the maple family, but it takes more sap to make the syrup, advised Friends of Maplewood volunteers. Sap comes out of the tree at 2% sugar and needs to be boiled to 66-67% to make syrup.

Friends of Maplewood volunteer John Nordstrom of Frazee, Minn., demonstrated over an open fire and shared how Native Americans held maple camps for two to three weeks annually, collecting and boiling maple sap down to maple syrup and then cooking longer to create granulated maple. Granulated maple sugar requires no refrigeration, unlike the syrup. For Native Americans, maple sugar added flavor to cooking and was easy to transport, added Nordstrom.

At Maplewood State Park, how the sap is captured has evolved since the trees first started being tapped for their sap in 2009. Bob Hanson previously served as the Maplewood State Park manager for 32 years and was a part of starting the program. Hanson now resides six miles east of the park and remains a Friends of Maplewood volunteer.

"If we wanted to have an educational program, and maple syrup, we needed to tap the trees," said Hanson.

Initially, the sap was collected in pails and boiled down in open pans to make the syrup. Today, an elaborate system of tubing along a downhill slope is how Maplewood State Park gathers sap to make syrup.

"The sap comes from the tree into that tube down to those bins. We transfer it into these tanks. And this continuous flow evaporator regulates the level of liquid in the back of the pan," Hanson said, showing attendees during the demonstration in the "Sugar Shack" where the sap is boiled down into syrup. Maplewood State Park had collected 860 gallons of sap as of April 6 and hopes to surpass 1,200 gallons this season.

Last year, in the United States, more than 4 million gallons of maple syrup was produced. Maple sap is collected from maple trees primarily in the Northeast U.S. and western Minnesota is as far west as maple syrup is commonly produced in the United States. Canada leads global maple syrup production with 71%, primarily in Quebec and other southeastern provinces.

Friends of Maplewood will sell this year's maple syrup as a fundraiser at the annual Leaf Days on September 28-29 and October 5-6, when visitors can see the turning leaves of the sugar maple trees on the park's 9,250 acres.

To see more on sap to syrup in Maplewood State Park, watch AgweekTV or on agweek.com

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