Above freezing temperatures during the day and frigid temperatures at night seem to represent that interminable waiting period between the dreariness of winter and the hope of spring. However, this temperature fluctuation between seasons also allows for an entirely unique season to occur: Maple sugaring season.
“You really need two things for this season,” said Justin Smith, an interpretive naturalist at Indian Springs Metropark in White Lake Township. “And Michigan is one of the only places in the world that has both. You need maple trees and you need the right weather conditions, where nights are below freezing and the days are above freezing to cause sap to flow.”
And since Michigan is one of the few places in the world where maple syrup can be produced, both Kensington, located in Milford Township, and Indian Springs metroparks will be offering tours every weekend in March, showing the steps of the maple sugaring process.
“It’s a chance for a little a bit of history, nature, and to see every aspect of the process and how maple sugaring came about and how it’s unique to North America,” said Victoria Sluder, a park interpreter at Kensington.
Tours at both parks will include a hike out to a sugar brush to see how to properly tap a tree and identify the different species of maple, as well as a stop at the sugar shack to witness how the maple sap is boiled down into syrup by the evaporator pan.
At Indian Springs, tours are held every hour from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. every weekend in March. The fee to participate is $3 per person and pre-registration is required. To pre-register, contact either 248-625-6640 or 800-477-3192.
At Kensington, tours start at noon every weekend with the final group leaving at 2:30 p.m. Unlike Indian Springs, no reservation is needed. Admission for the tour is $3 per adult and $1 per child/senior.
The tour at Kensington will also include a new feature this year in the form of re-enactors representing Michigan natives from the 18th century as they recreate life in an Algonquin winter camp, which will include demonstrations of the deer hide tanning process, as well as the centuries-old process of producing maple sugar from maple sap.
Hundreds of years ago, trees were tapped using stone tools and pieces of bark were used as a spout for the sap, which was collected and placed in a dug-out wooden trough. To remove the water, the Algonquins either heated stones in a fire and dropped them into the sap until it began to boil or left the sap exposed to freezing temperatures overnight, when the water in the sap would freeze and form a layer of ice on top, which was then removed, leaving behind the heavier sugar molecules.
While the methods today are more technologically advanced, the “science remains the same,” according to Sluder.
“We still have to heat (the sap) to a certain temperature to boil away the water,” she said.
Luckily, now evaporator pans are used to make the process more efficient, especially since it takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to yield one gallon of syrup.
Depending on the type of maple tree, some sap contains more sugar than others. Not surprisingly, the sugar maple contains the most sugar.
Metropark guests will have a chance to taste the maple syrup and possibly the sap as well on the tours.
“It’s really a multi-sensory event,” Sluder said. “You see, taste, smell and possibly even hear the sap dripping in buckets. It’s a really fun event.”
Smith agrees, saying this is a special time of year.
“It’s a magical thing when you tap that tree and see sap flowing. It’s one thing to hear about it and another to see,” he stated. “It’s quite a mystical thing.”