Seeing the joy on kids’ faces when they learn where the syrup from that morning’s pancakes comes from will be worth the trip. You don’t need to travel to the wilds of Vermont to tap into the maple sugaring experience. Here in New Jersey, we have our own maple-sugaring events in full swing right now! Shocked that Jersey even has a maple sugar season? Jenny Gaus-Myers, Superintendent of Environmental Education at the Morris County Park Commission admits that there are challenges to sugaring in Jersey.
“New Jersey is not known for its maple syrup and usually doesn’t have the same conditions or the same number of maple trees as northern states and Canada that produce the most syrup. We’re at the lower limit of the range of the sugar maple, the preferred tree for sugaring, although other maples work too. We use red maples here! It would be very difficult to make a living from a maple farm in New Jersey!” Instead, many parks in Jersey have established sites that “make syrup strictly for demonstration purposes.” Morris County Parks Commission has been sugaring since the 1970s.
Gaus-Myers runs sugar demos at the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Centerin Chatham and describes how a day of maple sugaring appeals to all members of the family, “I think the kids love the syrup taste test and seeing a real tree tapped outside, while the adults appreciate the interesting historical and scientific information about the process that we share. We also offer educational booklets for purchase so families can try their hands at making syrup from their own trees!” Gaus-Myers is most excited about the Maple Sugar Festival on Saturday, February 26 from 12 pm – 4 pm. The festival will provide even more activities. “Besides learning about the tapping process and tasting different syrups, this event also features guided ‘Hikes Through Sugaring History’ where groups visit outdoor stations set up to represent the sugaring methods of the Native Americans, early pioneers, Colonists, and present day maple farmers. We also have maple snow cones, maple-themed games and crafts, horse-drawn carriage rides, a real maple farmer selling his wares, and more.”
In Essex County, New Jersey Audubonoffers demonstrations at the Roseland Environmental Center. Environmental Educator Kelly Wenzel runs these events, citing the “hands on portion” as the best part of the demonstration. “Most of the time families will get to see a tree being ‘tapped’ and then go to another tree to collect sap.” She notes that for other facilities in the state with actual sugar shacks, such as the Forest Education Resource Center in Jackson, NJ, “families will get to see how the watery sap is boiled down to create syrup.” And of course, the tasting of the syrup is always the part that amazes young and old. Check out the links below for information on dates and times of maple-sugaring demonstrations in New Jersey during the upcoming months.
Van Vleck House & Gardens in Montclair:
Right in Baristaville, Van Vleck House & Gardens’ Children’s Program offers several ways to view sap as it’s being produced. On February 25 – March 7, families will be able to view the self-guided Maple Sugaring Display. There is also a maple sugaring event scheduled for February 23. Check back on the website for information on future dates where tastings will be offered.
Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center:
Maple Sugar Demonstrations will be held from 2 pm -3 pm on the following dates: February 5, 12, 13, 19 and 20. Participants will receive a demonstration and taste test the syrup while being given instruction in identifying and tapping trees. The season finishes with a Maple Sugaring Festival on Saturday, February 26 from 12 pm – 4 pm. There will be tree-tapping demonstrations, games, maple syrup snow cones, maple crafts and syrup taste tests. Call 973.635.6629 with questions.
Essex County Environmental Center in Roseland:
Saturday, February 12 from 10:30 am to 12pm. The center describes the event as, “Our walk today will find us searching for Sugar Maple trees. We will “tap” a maple tree, collect some sap and make some maple syrup. We’ll return to the center for hot chocolate and sugar snacks. Advance registration is required; call 973.226.6082. Fee: $5 members, $7 non-members.” Click here to find out more.
Forest Resource Education Center in Jackson, NJ:
This center has an extensive sugar shack allowing for large demonstrations. The site holds classes for kids of various ages. Check out this link to see descriptions of classes that introduce kids to maple sugaring.
The Nature Center at Washington Crossing State Park in Titusville, NJ:
Scheduled demonstrations are: February 26, March 6, March 12 and 13. Click here for specific times and directions.
Cynthia Darling is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Barista Kids.
(Photo: Flickr/Rachel Tayse)