Audubon Sharon in the Litchfield Hills will be holding its annual MapleFest on Saturday, March 16 between 10 am and 4 pm at the Sharon Audubon Center, Route 4, Sharon, CT. On-going guided 40-minute tours will lead visitors through the Center’s sugaring operation, including a working sugarhouse and a re-creation of Native American and early colonial sugaring methods.
Participants can watch as pure sugar maple sap is collected from the trees and turned into delicious maple syrup. Admission for the event is $5.00 adults and $3.00 children.
This hands-on, sensory-based experience focuses on trees as living organisms and the concept of sustainable agriculture in a forest ecosystem. The staff of the Sharon Audubon incorporates forest ecology and cultural history into the joy and excitement of maple syrup production. Participants will visit 3 different stations during their guided tour with members of the staff.
The first stop is the forest, which is on the way to the sugarhouse. Visitors will be guided down the “maple trail” that is lined with sugar maple trees. Silver buckets are hung from the trees and guests are invited to take a peek under the lids to observe the watery sap dripping from the spiles into the buckets. Guests will learn proper tapping techniques and how the Audubon Center collects the sap from the buckets before transporting it to the Sugarhouse.
The next stop is the sugarhouse where participants are invited to use their five senses to explore the process of syrup production. Steam can be seen bellowing from the evaporator as soon as the doors are slid open and the sweet aroma of syrup fills the air. The Sugarhouse Guide explains the entire process of how the sap is brought into the sugarhouse, fed into the evaporator and boiled down to the finished product. Tools such as syrup thermometers, hydrometers and filter presses are put to use right in front of the visitors’ eyes and guests even learn what it means to “grade” the fresh maple syrup before it is placed into bottles. Before leaving the Sugarhouse, everyone is treated to a taste of the delicious finished product.
The last stop of the tour includes a re-creation of Native American and Early Colonial sugaring methods. Guests watch steam rise from the sap in a hollowed out log as educators add Native American hot rocks from the fire ring and tell the legend of Woksis and how maple syrup was first discovered. Moving forward to Colonial times, guest watch the creation of a Colonial spile from a piece of sumac tree that one lucky guest per group gets to take home. Lastly, the “lazy man’s balance” is demonstrated to show how colonists made making maple syrup just a little simpler.
Fresh syrup will be available for purchase in the Sharon Audubon Center Nature Store while supplies last. For more information on MapleFest or the Audubon Sharon sugaring operation, contact the Audubon Center at (860) 364-0520 or visit www.sharon.audubon.org. Depending on sap flow, the sugarhouse will also be open each weekend in March for visitors. Call ahead to see if Audubon staff will be boiling sap. For area information www.litchfieldhills.com