Writer / Tonja Talley
“As spring approaches, the nights remain cold while the days get longer and warmer. This fluctuation in air temperature assists sugar maple tree sap to ‘run’ from the branches down to its roots. By tapping a tree, sugar makers can gather the sap, boil the liquid and bottle the sweet delicacy into what we know today as maple syrup.” — Description of the maple syrup season by a sugar maker hobbyist
The last gasps of winter brings our state’s first harvest of the year — Indiana maple syrup. In celebration of the maple-sugaring season and the coming of spring, the National Maple Syrup Festival (NMSF) will host a three-weekend event in Indiana. The quaint town of Nashville hosts the first two weekends, “Tap the Town” and the “Festival” with the last weekend, “Indiana Maple Weekend,” being held statewide.
Tap the Town: February 27-28
Nestled in the heart of Nashville, Indiana, the Village will sprout into a sugar bush (maple syrup farm) for “Tap the Town” February 27-28. Participants become sugar makers for a day, learning to capture the tree’s sap by a technique called “tapping the tree.” For the length of the Festival, the tree’s identification will then be by the name of the individual, group or family who tapped it. In anticipation of a large number of participants, early registration for this event is required on the Festival website.
The Festival: March 5-6
To open the Festival weekend, Nashville High School invites the public to the school’s cafeteria for a high flippin’ pancake breakfast extravaganza both Saturday and Sunday, March 5-6, from 8-11 a.m. “John Young, the owner of Louisville’s Chris Cakes, will again delight customers with his famous pancake grilling and flipping expertise,” said NMSF director Eric Freeman. “John and his pancake-making machine produce 120 pancakes every five minutes. He then wings each pancake through the air and onto your plate … as long as you keep your plate still.”
No matter what the weather forecast, the Festival in Brown County State Park is the place where it’s ‘sappening. The 1930 two-story, fieldstone shelter house plays host to the 2016 Festival. With its warm and inviting fireplaces, visitors can come and go as they please, immersing themselves in everything maple. Back by popular demand, visitors can experience the Maple March, a 30-minute interpretive walk. Leaving every hour on the half-hour from the shelter’s lower level, park naturalists exhibit such topics as recognizing a maple tree in winter, tapping the tree sap and (my favorite) tasting the sap right from the tree.
Before or after the Maple March, visitors can step back to a time when this land was still wild and unbridled. Descendants of the Delaware and Shawnee tribes, who lived in this area, lead festivalgoers back to the 1700s.
Witness demonstrations, tools and stories of how their ancestors created maple sugar. Nearby, re-enactors representing the French Colonial who came to this territory in the mid-1750s demonstrate European techniques to show how the Colonialists made maple sugar.
In the same area, children can tap into a number of activities to suit their taste. For the craftier group, The Lighthouse Puppet Theater tells a “Tall Maple Tale,” while stories and make-it-and-take-it projects abound. For the adventuresome children, many activities like the “Maple Motion,” a children’s obstacle course on a miniature sugar bush, is a must do.
Indiana Maple Weekend: March 12-13
Sponsored by the National Maple Syrup Festival and the Indiana Maple Syrup Association, Indiana sugar makers statewide encourage visitors to come and visit their modern-day sugar bushes March 12-13. Drop in and see what invention gathers the tree sap now instead of a bucket or bag. Explore the sugarhouses and witness the process that quickly turns sap into syrup. For more information on each sugar maker’s activities or maps for the Indiana Maple Weekend, check the Festival website.
No matter what your age or interest, there are plenty of maple activities for everyone during the 2016 National Maple Syrup Festival. Come see the ‘sappenings!