ITASCA STATE PARK - The boy peered cautiously into the spout, as if at any moment, sweet, sugary sap would come shooting out of the towering maple tree.
Moments earlier, a volunteer from the crowd hit paydirt - sap oozed out of the small hole he had drilled into the side of the tree. One at a time, several children dipped their pinkies inside to get a taste of the tree's sweet nectar.
Kids got into the act at Saturday's Maple Syrup Program at Itasca State Park, checking on sap flow . Brainerd Dispatch/ Brian S. Peterson » Purchase reprints of this photo.
"No double-dipping," said Connie Cox, a naturalist at Itasca State Park, laughing softly.
Next, another volunteer from the crowd lightly hammered a spout into the hole, from which a milk cartoon - fashioned for just such a task - would be attached.
The anxious onlookers waited. But nothing.
A maple tree is like that. Sometimes it takes some warming up in the early spring sun for the sap to run.
It was warm and sunny Saturday at Itasca State Park's Bear Paw Campground. But obviously, not warm enough, at least not yet. Slowly, the crowd dispersed from around the tree.
Installing taps in the maple trees. Brainerd Dispatch/ Brian S. Peterson » Purchase reprints of this photo.
No sap today.
But the crowd of about 40, mostly children, didn't go away disappointed. Each got a taste of real maple syrup at the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center at the beginning of Saturday's Maple Syrup Program - and then some. With some help from the adults, the kids quickly polished off a tableful of syrup samples in the classroom at the visitor's center. And once out at the campground, Jody Popesh, public services supervisor at Itasca, served up samples of fresh maple sugar.
The kids were buzzing.
Taste-testing real maple syrup during a classroom session to start the program. Brainerd Dispatch/ Brian S. Peterson » Purchase reprints of this photo.
And drilling. And hammering. Under Cox's supervision, kids were picked to participate, from drilling holes in the maples to tapping in spouts. No sap? It didn't seem to matter.
Connie Cox (right), park naturalist at Itasca State Park, had no shortage of volunteers to drill a hole in a maple tree during the Maple Syrup Program on Saturday at the park. Brainerd Dispatch/ Brian S. Peterson » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Tapping trees is the easy - and fun - part of harvesting maple syrup. After that ... Well, that's when the work starts. Consider this: It typically takes 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup. And the process of converting sap to syrup - boiling off most of the water content of the sap, which leaves the sugar and flavor behind - is often long and grueling.
But if you're interested in making maple sugar, now is the time. The main sap run in Minnesota is March 15 to April 20. (For more information, go to www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/maple_syrup_events.html.)
As Saturday's event at Itasca slowly wound down, so did the kids. No more drilling or hammering or sugary treats. At least not at Itasca. The late afternoon sun beat down on the dwindling crowd and the weathered maples, slowly turning the surprisingly abundant snowcover at Itasca to slop and slush.
An adult volunteer was needed to drill a hole in a maple the old-fashioned way -with an old-fashioned hand drill. Brainerd Dispatch/ Brian S. Peterson » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Still, on this day, the maples yielded nothing.
BRIAN S. PETERSON, outdoors editor, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5864.
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