Wesselman Woods’ 44th annual Maple Sugarbush Festival kicks off this weekend, but the elbow grease that goes into the event has been churning for weeks.
The nature preserve’s own sugarbush serves as the site for yearly sugar maple tapping. Cindy Cifuentes, director of natural resources and research, says more than 400 gallons of sap have been tapped this year, producing a little more than eight gallons of syrup. All sap is handled by Wesselman Woods staff members and volunteers, who collect, boil, and bottle it.
Wesselman Woods Executive Director Zach Garcia points out the unique opportunity that the nature preserve’s sugarbush provides Tri-State residents.
“This is probably the southernmost tip of tapping sugar maples,” he says. “We’re so fortunate to have this. Where else can you see this around here? For a big operation, you’ll have to go to central Indiana, Wisconsin, or Vermont. … We want to get people out here and have them gain a sense of awe of, ‘This is happening in the middle of our city!’ That’s the key to it.”
Garcia describes the resulting syrup as “gritty, but in a good way. It’s not a texture that’s gritty, but there’s a kick to it. It has an earthy taste. It’s not what you’d expect.” Garcia says he’s paired Wesselman Woods’ maple syrup with chicken and waffles, pancakes, and oatmeal.
Guests at this Saturday and Sunday’s Maple Sugarbush Festival can take a guided hike through the forest, visit educational activity booths, and see the sugar maple-tapping process in person.
“We show them this process, which has been done for centuries, first by indigenous people, then by colonists. We’re keeping this tradition, this art form alive,” Garcia says. “The experience of seeing how this tradition is produced is important because in 50 years, we don’t know with climate change if we’ll still be tapping sugar.”
After a hiatus in 2021, a pancake breakfast is back at the festival, with meals taking place each hour on the hour from 7 a.m. to noon. Guests who bring their own reusable cup, plate, or fork will receive a free day pass to Wesselman Woods and the Welborn Baptist Foundation Nature Playscape. Adult admission is $10, with children’s admission set at $6. Tickets can be purchased on Wesselman Woods’ website. Face masks are required inside the nature center when guests are not dining.
A sweet bonus: This year’s syrup will be for sale in eight-ounce bottles for $12.
Photos courtesy of Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve.