It’s a sweet time of year for the McHenry County Conservation District.
The district’s longest-running seasonal event, the Festival of the Sugar Maples, returns to Coral Woods Conservations Area in Marengo for two syrupy weekends beginning March 3.
At least several hundred people a day are expected to take part in half-mile trail tours. They’ll start at a historical station where they’ll learn all about Native American folklore from volunteers playing the roles of early pioneers and settlers who made their own syrup.
Then they’ll head down the trail to see more modern methods of making maple syrup, with the tour ending at an evaporator house where they’ll see how the sap turns into syrup they can taste – and, yes, they’ll get a taste.
Every year, the district collects about 200 gallons of sap from about 40 trees to boil down into 5 gallons of syrup for tasting at the next year’s festival, said Andy Talley, education program coordinator for the district.
“I think it’s always been kind of intriguing to people,” Talley said of the story behind maple syrup. “It’s one of my favorite programs we do. I love going through the whole process myself and tapping the trees and making the syrup ever year and teaching people about it.”
The free event will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 3-4 and March 10-11 at Coral Woods, 7400 Somerset Drive, Marengo. Tours leave every 15 minutes and take about an hour.
Those who attend are advised to dress for the weather. Hot chocolate, pure mayle syrup, maple candy and cookies will be available to buy.
From 7 a.m. to noon before the event on March 4 and 11, the Union Lion’s Club will host a pancake breakfast at the Union Fire Protection District, 6606 Main St., Union. The cost of the breakfast is $3 for children, $6 for adults.
“Depending on the weather from year to year, we can get 200 to 300 people each day of the event, sometimes more,” Talley said. “We’ve had some years where we had more than 1,000 people come out in one weekend. Even on a bad-weather day, we’ll have over 1,000 people.”
The conservation district tapped its trees last week and already has “a really good sap run,” he said. “We may be finishing the syrup the first weekend of the festival.”
The district does not produce enough syrup to sell, but does offer the sale of professionally made pure syrup at the festival, he said.
“It’s a great family outing,” he said. “It’s a wonderful time of year to just get out and get into a beautiful site like Coral.”