Plunk. Plunk. Plunk. A family peers over the rim of a silver bucket hanging on a maple tree and watches clear maple sap drip from a tiny spout. When temperatures rise above freezing at the end of winter, the sap’s-a running.
Syrup-making in our region dates back to Woodland Indians who mastered the technique using simple collection tools, gashing the tree’s bark with an ax. Today’s methods are healthier for the tree and visitors to Bendix Woods County Park in New Carlisle can observe the process first-hand.
Trees are tapped in late February when the grip of winter softens. Dozens of volunteers bustle in the sugarbush (the area where maple trees grow) on “Tapping Day.” A tiny hole is drilled into the sapwood of each large sugar maple, and vast systems of plastic tubing connect to plastic spiles, the tiny “spouts” tapped into the holes.
When conditions are right, sap flows from the trees through the flexible tubing into the Sugar House at the bottom of the hill. Buckets hung by school groups fill with sap and are transferred to the Sugar House, as well.
There, clouds of steam billow from the cupula atop the wooden shelter. Volunteers feed the fire, share conversation and keep a watchful eye on the boiling sap waiting for the temperature and density to transform the gift from the trees to golden syrup.
Nearby, the residents of Hamilton Grove Retirement Community in New Carlisle also tap trees and boil sap, yielding delicious syrup… and fellowship.
At Bendix Woods County Park, the season culminates with Sugar Camp Days, a festival on the third weekend in March. Pancakes sizzle on griddles, maple sloppy joes steam under a park shelter. Horse-drawn wagon rides, tours of the sugar bush and artisan demonstrations fill the weekend.
Come celebrate the end of winter and the sweetness of pure maple syrup with us in New Carlisle!