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Maple Sugar Weekend opens Saturday at Wehr Nature Center

Karen Kerans of the Wehr Nature Center shows St. John School students how maple sap is reduced to maple syrup March 19.

Karen Kerans of the Wehr Nature Center shows St. John School students how maple sap is reduced to maple syrup March 19. Photo By Heather Ronaldson

March 25, 2014

As the weather warms, maple syrup making season gets under way.

Real maple syrup starts with freshly tapped sap: the lifeblood of trees. It flows like water from sugar maple trees in spring, when there are cold nights and warm days. Sugar maples are the sweetest maple tree and have been Wisconsin's state tree since 1949.

Those interested in learning the full process of syrup making are invited to Sugar Maple Weekend at Wehr Nature Center.

Attendees will learn how to identify sugar maple trees and will be shown how to tap the tree. There also will be games, activities for kids and a lesson on how tapping was done in pioneer days. The whole loop takes about an hour and a half to complete and finishes with a taste of real maple syrup on a pancake.

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"It's a total family involvement, and everybody loves it. We all learn something, and we get to taste one of our favorite flavors: maple sugar. Who can beat that?" said Karen Kerans, part-time naturalist at Wehr.

The Wehr Nature Center has been tapping sugar maple trees since it opened in 1974, Kerans said. It takes eight gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. All that's needed is the proper equipment.

Tapping starts with grinding a 1.5-inch hole into a sugar maple that is at least 45 inches in circumference to reach what's called sapwood — it's where the sap is in the tree. To simulate this process, Wehr patrons will practice drilling into a stump with a hand drill.

A spile or spout is then hammered into the hole, where a bucket or bag will hang and collect sap. Wehr covers the bags to keep woodland creatures, bugs and bark out of the liquid.

Once the bags are filled, sap is taken to the boiling station where it is strained through cloth and boiled at 219 degrees. Boiling can take all day, Kerans said. Eventually, the water evaporates and the sugar stays to form syrup. Syrup can be boiled down even more to form granulated maple sugar, which Wehr patrons will taste this weekend.

Maple sugar cotton candy, maple treats and tapping equipment will be on sale in the gift shop.

If you go

WHERE: Wehr Nature Center, 9701 W. College Ave.

WHEN: 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

COST: $5 per person at the door, plus a $3 Wehr parking fee

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