Touch of Nature holds sixth Maple Syrup Festival


Isaac Taylor, a senior from Joliet studying recreation, explains the water evaporation process involved in making maple syrup Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017, at Touch of Nature Environmental Center in Carbondale. Staff at Touch tap trees, harvest sap and create maple syrup on site for the annual Maple Syrup Festival. (Branda Mitchell | @branda_mitchell)

By Diamond Jones

Carbondale residents bundled up for the cold and gathered together Saturday and Sunday for the Maple Syrup Festival at Touch of Nature Environmental Center.

The annual festival brought between 500 and 600 people to eat homemade pancakes covered in maple syrup and take part in a series of demonstrations and activities for all families and age groups. The tradition started six years ago after Touch of Nature Environmental Center had been producing maple syrup from trees for 20 years. This program teaches the community to make their own.

“This is like an open house to the community that says, ‘Come to Touch of Nature and see the great things we’re doing for the community and school,’” said JD Tanner, the center’s director.


Tanner said the reception of the festival carried decent numbers over the last couple of years, though, he said the weather plays a huge part in attendance. In his first year, between 200 and 300 people a day came out because of an ice storm, while last year when the temperatures hit 70 degrees, more than 1200 people attended in the two days.

The windy and cold weather of this weekend didn’t seem to slow the festival down too much. Laughter filled the 3,100 acre retreat facility throughout the weekend.

“Touch of Nature is what makes SIU unique,” Tanner said. “We are the ideal community outreach piece for the university.”

Tanner said adding local vendors and SIU groups to the program has improved the reception as well. Those who chose to pay for breakfast help raise money for the organization, but free activities are open to the public.

“It’s become more than a breakfast,” he said. “It’s a half day — in some cases a full day — of entertainment to show people how things were done in the old days.”

The SIU forestry club members demonstrating how to chop wood competition style and local blacksmiths were a part of the festivities.


A selection of handmade crafts and jewelry were also on display and for sale, along with pottery, clothing and plants. Families could learn the process of making cordage and activities for children included rock climbing and obstacle courses.

“The best part about the demonstration is the interaction with people,” said Cody Smothers, a graduate student studying outdoor recreation. “You can see on their face that they’re really interested in what you have to say.”

Smothers said this was the first festival he’s worked. He started an internship at Touch of Nature last semester that turned into a job. Since then, he said, he has made it a goal to help teach more primitive skill programs, like cordage.

Allen Jasowicz, a sophomore from Mount Prospect studying forestry, plays a log toss game with other members of the Forestry Club on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, during the annual Maple Syrup Festival and Pancake Breakfast at Touch of Nature. (Branda Mitchell | @branda_mitchell)

He said he enjoys the festival’s ability to introduce people to different areas of outdoor activities, like blacksmithing or turning natural products into everyday resources.

“Really the entire festival we have out here is great,” Smothers said. “If you have one interest,  you can check that out and by the end of the day you have five interests.”

Emily Bernstein, a student from Brehm Preparatory School in Carbondale, came with her family. She said it was her first time participating in the Maple Syrup Festival and she looked forward to seeing how homemade maple syrup is created.

“It’s like a summer camp feel here and people are really nice,” Bernstein said.

Campus reporter Diamond Jones can be reached at [email protected], 618-536-3325 or on Twitter @_dimewrites.

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