The Cleveland Metroparks – nicknamed the ‘Emerald Necklace’ of Cleveland - are a system of beautiful nature preserves throughout the region. In addition to giving Clevelanders access to scenic walking, bicycle and horse trails, golf courses, picnic areas and fishing holes, the parks also host numerous events throughout the year for nature education.
This past weekend, Scott and I joined a couple of friends at the Cleveland Metroparks’ Rocky River Reservation to check out the last weekend of their History of Maple Sugaring tour. Each year, from the end of February until the beginning of March, the temperatures in the Northeast Ohio region are the perfect condition to produce sap. For just a couple of weeks, the temperatures are above freezing in the daytime and below freezing at night which triggers the circulation of the sap throughout the trees’ sapwood. And with the trees’ production of sap comes the production of some of the purest maple syrup.
Our group stopped by the Maple Grove Picnic Area in the Rocky River Reservation to check out the sap-to-syrup process. The first stop on the tour was the Sugarbush Trail during which our tour guide demonstrated the sap-collecting methods from early Native Americans and pioneers to modern sugar farmers. Each stop showed the progression from reeds and bark to wooden buckets, metal containers and finally the plastic tubing that is used today. At the end of the hike, we visited the Sugar House where we got to watch sap that had been collected from the area’s trees boiled into pure maple syrup.
The highlight of the entire visit, however, was the opportunity to chat with Bill Miller — or as he jokingly referred to himself, ‘S.O.B.’ (Sweet Ol’ Bill). At 79 (though he didn’t look it!), Bill is an expert at the intricate process of boiling the sap into syrup. When the tour ended we hung around to look at the evaporator used to boil the sap. Bill walked up, introduced himself, and we spent the next 40 minutes learning everything we wanted to about maple syrup — from the role of photosynthesis in producing the sap to what causes the different grades of maple syrup. Chatting with Bill wasn’t just educational, but also entertaining — a definite don’t miss.
To cap it all off, we ended our visit with a sampling of the syrup that was extracted and made in the park. Volunteers served silver dollar pancakes with a dollop of the local syrup and sold delicious maple candy for a quarter a piece.
As with a number of the Metroparks’ events, the entire tour was free – providing a great afternoon of engaging and educational storytelling for nothing.
Unfortunately, this weekend was the final weekend of the Metroparks’ Maple Sugaring for the year. With the first signs of Spring appearing and temperatures (slowly) rising, the maple trees have stopped readily producing sap – which means it’s time for the Sugar House to pack up until next Winter when Maple Season resumes.
Cleveland Metroparks 411: