Sweet syrup on display at Shaver’s Creek Maple Harvest Festival

Carly Hess, 7, takes a turn drilling into a tree for a sap tap during the Maple Harvest Festival and Pancake Breakfast at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center on Saturday, March 22, 2014.
Carly Hess, 7, takes a turn drilling into a tree for a sap tap during the Maple Harvest Festival and Pancake Breakfast at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center on Saturday, March 22, 2014. CDT photo

On Saturday, the 31st annual Maple Harvest Festival at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center showed guests that it’s not just Vermont and states north of Pennsylvania that produce maple syrup.

The festival’s mission is to show guests where some of the local syrup production comes from, as the pancake breakfast used 20 gallons of syrup from Brydonson Farms in Coudersport.

“It’s really popular around here, actually,” said Laurie McLaughlin, program director and instructor at Shaver’s Creek. “There are a lot of local farms that tap into thousands of trees.”

A bulk of maple syrup production starts in northern West Virginia and northeast through New England. But it’s not uncommon in places like the upper Midwest and south to North Carolina, she said.

Vermont is the largest producer of maple syrup in the country, with more than 5 percent of the global supply. New York, where the state tree is the sugar maple, produces the second most maple syrup followed by Maine, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In the commonwealth, maple syrup is mainly produced in central and northern parts of the state, McLaughlin said.

“It’s a hard process and costs a lot because it’s so time-consuming,” McLaughlin said. “But there is something about it that makes its production a real art.”

Maple syrup producers first identify a sugar maple tree to tap, drill a hole in the tree and then wait for the sap to drain out.

“It’s like taking blood,” she said.

Once the sap is collected, it’s boiled until the water evaporates; 98 percent of the sap is made of water. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup, McLaughlin added.

At the Sugar Shack education station at the festival Saturday, the Vasiri family learned that the syrup they buy at the store is only made of about 1 percent actual syrup.

“It puts a lot of things into perspective,” said Sydma Vasiri, the mother of Camile, 9, Bronson, 7, and Jesse, 6. “It’s nice to have fun at a festival like this and learn something in the process.”

The Vasiris continued onto other stations that provided lessons taught by Penn State students with skits and live entertainment, and a station that put guests into the shoes of those living and making maple syrup in the 1800s.

Penn State junior Dan Warner showed visitors that a T-auger was originally used to drill the tree. His station allowed guests to see some tools and help make a spile out of wood that allows the sap to drain.

Dressed in clothing that mimicked that of what someone could imagine from more than 100 years ago, Warner said that as part of a maple syrup class he’s taking at Penn State, he works directly with Shaver’s Creek.

“It’s cool because the program is really interactive,” Warner said. “We get to mingle with people a lot, and like this, we’re showing them a little bit about the maple syrup production history.”

He said the maple syrup production season only lasts about 20 days in the spring. Sap drains out of the tree best when the days are warm and the nights are cold.

Around Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center, more than a dozen sugar maple trees are tapped.

The festival annually brings in about 1,000 people a day and raises money for Shaver’s Creek.

“This is really a passage of spring and a time to celebrate the natural world,” McLaughlin said. “It’s fun, educational and shows people that their syrup is not just coming from the store.”

The event is run by Shaver’s Creek staff, 140 volunteers and 40 Penn State students.