We all know parks are great places to play, exercise and experience nature, and that all these activities are of great physical and mental benefit to us. Less obvious, perhaps, are the many and varied machinations going on within parks and just under our noses — little bugs and fungi breaking down dead plant and animal matter; animals hunting and being hunted; and trees performing myriad unseen tasks like cleaning our air and water, and producing food. And we’re not just talking nuts and fruit, either. Each winter, the vast maple stands at Malabar Farm State Park in Ohio begin trickling out the raw material that produces one of the most sought-after, delicious and difficult-to-obtain substances to be had anywhere — maple syrup. In celebration of this annual sugar rush, the park hosts its four-day Maple Syrup Festival to give park goers an up-close look at how thick, sticky tree sap becomes the tasty topping for our waffles and pancakes.
“[Visitors] get to see the raw sap enter into the sugar house and down into the evaporator where the steam is rolling back out of the roof,” says Korre Boyer, park manager at Malabar Farm. “The sap is boiled until it reaches 66 percent sugar content. That is when sap becomes syrup. Each visitor through our sugar house also gets a sample cup of real maple syrup.”
The prospect of enjoying a warm shot of fresh maple syrup is certainly enough to entice the 6,500 to 8,000 people who attend the festival each year, not to mention other fun attractions like Indian and pioneer encampment displays, live music and horse-drawn carriage rides to and from Malabar’s sugar camp. Best of all, says Boyer, “everyone leaves with their sugar fix!”
Samantha Bartram is the Associate Editor of Parks & Recreation magazine.