GENOA – For the first time in the history of the annual Maple Syrup Fest at Russell Woods Forest Preserve, the weather kept the sap water from flowing through the trees.
Host Peggy Doty, energy and environmental stewardship educator for the University of Illinois Extension at the Natural Resource Center, chose to focus on the unique opportunity this presented.
“We don’t sell a product; we’re showing the process,” Doty said. “If we’re doing it right at the prime [time] at the end, they can’t do it for another year, so the chances of them actually trying it are better this year than they’ve ever been.”
Finding trees to tap took a little more patience this year, as the desirable hunting grounds across the river became impassable because of extreme ice. After finally locating a suitable maple tree, Michelle Kilcullen drilled a small hole in the side to demonstrate the simple process. No sap water was released from the tree because it was too cold.
The volunteer from the Illinois Extension master naturalist program actually prefers store-bought, artificial syrup over the homegrown, freshly-tapped variety, though.
“It’s definitely got a different taste,” said Kilcullen, of Kirkland. “It’s almost like a different product.”
While the colder than usual weather may have kept some people from the event, it still drew over 120 visitors from as far away as Princeton and Elmhurst. For many, the motivation was education and getting out with family.
Adam Taylor of Kirkland has several maple trees in his yard and wanted to find out how to tap them. He brought his 12-year-old daughter, Rachel, and her friend Laney Melendez with him.
“It’s kind of cool to see all the work that goes into it – teach the kids where the food comes from,” he said.
Children at the center were given a “Maple Quiz” to complete. Participants learned, among other things, the earliest documentation of Native Americans producing maple syrup is from the 1500s and that Canada produces about 80 percent of the world’s supply of maple syrup.
Besides the events focused on maple syrup Saturday, there were several other educational opportunities for visitors.
Representatives from Oaken Acres Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Sycamore brought several rescued birds, including Stinky the screech owl and a turkey vulture named Vinnie. Audience members were able to get up close looks at these rescued raptors that have been imprinted and are no longer able to survive in the wild.
Al Roloff, a Natural Resource Manager for the Forest Preserve District, gave a presentation on identifying local trees in the winter using bark patterns and twig parts.
“I was so glad to see some kids in there,” Roloff said, “because I think it’s real important for kids to get a good experience with being outside when they’re young.”