Daily Egyptian

Maple Syrup Festival kicks off this weekend

By Kitt Fresa

From pancake breakfasts topped with freshly made syrup to lumberjack demonstrations and interpretive hikes, the Maple Syrup Festival will offer a myriad of activities for families to enjoy.

The festival will go from February 24th through the 25th beginning at 9 a.m. and continues to 3 p.m. at Little Grassy. Each day will be offering a pancake breakfast served from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and is free but customers have to register first before the breakfast, tickets are $12 for ages 13 and up, $6 for ages 6 to 12, and free for kids ages 5 and under.

The festival is most famous for its maple syrup, which will be served at the pancake breakfast and is made from the maple trees at Touch of Nature Environmental Center at Little Grassy Lake.

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Along with the arts and crafts demonstrations, there’s also a presentation of maple syrup production which shows how maple tree sap is made into syrup.

Patrick Jones, the Marketing and Publicity Coordinator for Touch of Nature said, “I’m pretty much the unofficial touch of nature photographer and I love taking pictures of the kids eating their breakfast. We have the little ones and they’re just chowing down on the pancakes and they’re so cute and they’re having a wonderful time.”

Typically the process of making the syrup would start in around January and end in late February to early March. But due to climate change and unpredictable weather patterns, Ton started earlier in December this year.

The process of tapping, harvesting, boiling down, and canning the syrup takes a lot of people and man-hours to do the job. About 10 people have been actively involved since the beginning operation.

“So far, we have gathered over 900 gallons of sap this year,” Erik Oberg, the Program Coordinator for Touch of Nature said. “After 5 boil-down sessions each one lasting 12-16 hours, we have about 15 gallons of syrup. It takes about 40-50 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup.”

Oberg said the festival got its start when a former employee, Scott Ferguson, came up with the idea and developed the family-friendly event.

Since then, it has featured a variety of artisans, craftspeople and artists demonstrating their skills and wares, with a pioneer and “old-timey” focus.

“This festival offers the opportunity to take time out of busy schedules, enjoy the outdoors, and a glimpse of what it was like in older times,” Oberg said

The artisans will be offering a wide range of items available for purchase in addition to many demonstrations.

People will be able to purchase items such as native woven baskets, silk embroidery, alpaca yarn and goat’s milk products, natural soaps and lotions, wood and pottery products and handmade textiles.

Demonstrations like a climbing wall, beekeeping, rope making, hide tanning and primitive living skills are just a few of events to be shown.

One presentation, in particular, is the blacksmithing and metalwork demonstration that will be shown by the graduate students in the SIU Blacksmithing program.

The SIU Forestry Club will also be coming to the festival to host some Lumberjack games which include activities like crosscut sawing, log rolling and ax throwing.

“It’s a really good time, kind of a unique festival for this area…It’s cool to have it down here and connect people to the area,” Jenna Parks, a Forestry major at SIU and a student employee at Touch of Nature said.

Oberg said each year the festival gets bigger and bigger. And especially recently, Jones said the festival has become astronomically more popular.

“My favorite memories are working with others on a collective job, talking around the fires that need to burn for 12-16 hours for the sap to evaporate into syrup, and of course, tasting the end result of our labor,” Oberg said.

According to Oberg last year the festival had around 900 people attend the two-day event last year. They’re planning for that or even more this year.

Staff writer Kitt Fresa can be reached at [email protected]

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