Thanks to the YWCA and many volunteers at River Bend Nature Center on N. Green Bay Rd., the ancient art and science of gathering and preparing maple syrup not only lives on, but is being presented up close and personal to all who attend their Sugarin’ Off Pancake Sundays.
This annual event has been going strong for over 30 years. Held in late winter, it is one of River Bend Nature Center’s top fundraisers, said Terri Friedrich, executive director of the YWCA. Individual volunteers from around the community join forces with groups from the Junior Women’s Club, Racine County Conservation League, the Washington Park High School Transition Program and the YWCA Board Members and Staff. Tables and chairs are donated by the Racine County Food Bank. It’s a great example of a community coming together to help support the important educational tool we have in River Bend.
Warm days and below freezing nights are the combination required to get the sap flowing. The northeastern part of the United States and southeastern part of Canada are the only places in the world where everything comes together just right.
Christy Hoff, River Bend Naturalist/Educator, explained that when European settlers first came to America they found the Native Americans cutting gashes into the side of sugar maple trees in early spring and gathering the sap as it flowed from the gash. Once a sufficient amount was collected, it was placed in hollowed out logs or pots made of bark. To make the syrup, rocks were heated over a fire and dropped into the sap, eventually creating enough heat to steam off the excess water, leaving pure syrup behind.
Centuries later, though the tools have changed, the process is still very much the same. I walked into the woods with John Schluckebier, River Bend Naturalist to observe a maple tree being tapped. As we walked, John pointed out various trees along the trail until finally we came to a sugar maple tree of sufficient size to produce a good quantity of sap. With students from Red Apple Elementary, 21st Century Prep School and Stephen Bull Fine Arts School looking on, John used an old style brace and bit to drill a half-inch hole, two inches deep into the tree. Tapping a metal spyle into the tree and hanging a bucket from the hook, the sap began to flow and drop-by-drop the bucket began to fill. Once enough sap is gathered, it is boiled over fire to remove excess water.
Bring your families and witness this amazing gift of nature for yourselves and enjoy an all-you-can-eat family style breakfast of sausages and pancakes at River Bend every Sunday in March from 9:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. The cost for adults is $7 and children ages 4 to 12 is $3. Children 3 and under eat free! All proceeds collected help maintain the nature center and fund its many valuable educational programs.