MARENGO – Seven-year-old Kennedy Markee sat on a wooden bench in the evaporation house at Coral Woods Conservation Area, a cloud of sweet-smelling steam rising a few feet ahead.
Her Festival of the Sugar Maples tour was at its end. And when Andy Talley, McHenry County Conservation District education program coordinator, asked whether anyone had any more questions, Kennedy asked one likely on a few others’ minds.
“Can I have another one?” she said, having just finished the small taste of pure maple syrup that each festivalgoer is offered before departing.
Kennedy and her sister, 9-year-old Brianne, attended the festival Saturday with their father, Brennan, and grandparents, Wayne and Melodee Markee, all of Crystal Lake. They were among dozens of people who ventured to the MCCD site in the Marengo area for the first day of the festival, which continues from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. today as well as next weekend.
Kim Compton, another education program coordinator, said district officials enjoyed a steady turnout Saturday, even though temperatures were in the high 20s.
It was too cold, in fact, for sap to flow.
“But … just because it’s not flowing today doesn’t mean you can’t get a full tour with a taste,” Compton said.
The annual festival takes place this time of year because temperatures usually are climbing to above freezing during the day, but still dipping below freezing at night. This triggers the sap to flow.
Those taking the tour started their 0.4-mile trek with volunteer guide Shelly Kaplan of Crystal Lake, who provided a brief history of MCCD and welcomed visitors to the scenic, 775-acre site.
“We’re going to learn a little bit about why we tap maple trees and how we tap maple trees,” she said.
At the first of four education stations, Jerry Martin of Wildwood – dressed as a French Native American frontiersman – provided a Native American tale of how maple syrup was discovered. He also showed tools and equipment that may have been used to collect sap in centuries past.
Taking it all in were several members of Girl Scout Troop 807 of Cary, including Amanda Schur, 11, Jill Kraeger, 11, Madison Hanus, 11, Stephanie Dunphy, 10, and Nora Gaynor, 10, with leader Joyce Kraeger.
Along the tour, attendees learned that tubes, called spiles, are tapped an inch to 1˝ inches into maple and several other tree varieties to gather sap. Sugar maples are considered best for their sap’s higher sugar content, but even a birch can be tapped for syrup-making sap, they said.
Between stations, Dax and Basia Kirchhoff of Marengo towed their daughters, Elina, 4, and Emily, 7, and their friend, Eternity Sterritt, 7, in a red plastic sled.
“It’s a great day,” Dax Kirchhoff said. “It’s good to get the kids outside this time of year.”
If you go
What: Festival of the Sugar Maples
Where: Coral Woods, 7400 Somerset Drive, Marengo
When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. today, Saturday and March 10