This weekend is the 13th annual New York Maple Weekend. The weekend, sponsored by the New York State Maple Producers Association, features a host of sugar houses across the state that open their doors for tours. Accent Editor Jamie Saine spoke to Executive Director Mary Jeanne Packer about what to expect this weekend and what exactly goes into maple production.
Jamie Saine: Tell me a little bit about Maple Weekend.
Mary Jeanne Packer: Maple producers all over New York state, all on the same two days, open their sugar houses to tours for the public. In our area, in the Ithaca area, a couple of good ones to go to would be the Cayuga Nature Center up on Route 81 or Arnot Forest … that’s a Cornell owned and managed forest down on County Road 13 in Van Etten. And they both will be open this weekend, offering tours and breakfast. Folks will have to pay for the breakfast but they can have the tours … I believe it’s free at Cornell and for the price of admission at the Cayuga Nature Center.
JS: What do you see on the tour?
MJP: Everything from how a sugar brush or maple forest is managed to enhance sap production, to how to tap the trees in a way that doesn’t harm the tree, to how the sap is boiled to make maple syrup and some of the confections that maple producers make in addition to syrup such as candy, cotton candy, snow cones and goodies like that.
JS: How did the tradition start?
MJP: It began 13 years ago in western New York with a one-day event that we called Maple Sunday, where just a handful — 10 or 12 producers — all put out a sign in front of their sugar house that said ‘Maple Sunday open house today.’ And the Buffalo evening news carried it and [it was] this little tiny event and it’s just taken off. Now the other states in the maple region, like Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, are also doing some sort of maple open house event as well.
JS: Is there a reason the weekend takes place in March?
MJP: March is maple month. There’s only certain times a year when the sap moves in the tree in a way that it’s also flavorful. Once there’s leaves out on the trees the sap turns a little bitter, so the absolute best time of year is right now. The other piece is, we need the weather we’re having to make the sap run. We rely on cold nights and warm days to cause the sap to move up and down through the trunk of the tree.
JS: What if there’s bad weather?
MJP: This is rain or shine, snow or shine, mud or shine. Actually, so called bad weather, to us, like a rainy day, is actually a better sap run day. Maple producers don’t mind that at all. Because there’s a low barometric pressure, it makes it easier for the sap to rise in the tree.
JS: How have the turnouts been in the last few years?
MJP: Last year, our 12th annual, the estimate of total number of visitors in the Maple Weekend event was just over two million. It was a huge event. Some sugar houses, especially right near Buffalo, [N.Y.], or Albany, [N.Y.], have as many as 2,000 people in a day come through and take the tour.
JS: How do you organize all the sugar houses to hold open houses on the same weekend?
MJP: They are all members of our trade association, the New York State Maple Producers Association, and so we just send out a sign up form to all our members and they write back and we go from there.
JS: I see a lot of children in the photos from last year. How do the kids react?
MJP: Kids absolutely love it. We think of children these days as not going outdoors much and for a variety of reasons I’m afraid that’s true — Nintendo games, parents’ fear of the unknown, more of both parents working and less time to take the kids outdoors. So this is a really great opportunity to experience something with their families. We also get a lot of school groups because it’s part of a New York state tradition that’s many hundreds of years old. It’s about as authentic a spring agricultural event as you’re going to find anywhere.
For more information about Maple Weekend visit www.nysmaple.com.