For a long time, Deanna Olmem has been thinking about tapping the maple trees in her Ingleside backyard to make syrup. So she and her husband were looking forward to learning more about the process at this year’s annual Festival of the Sugar Maples, which kicked off over the weekend and continues Saturday and Sunday at Coral Woods Conservation Area in Marengo.
“We’ve wanted to come [to the event] for a while because we want to learn how to make syrup,” Olmem said. “I think with the right tools, we’ll be able to do it. It seems pretty simple.”
The McHenry County Conservation District has been holding the free event for more than 20 years. Thousands of people visit the festival during the two weekends to learn about the ancient tradition of making syrup, which was discovered by Native Americans and practiced by American settlers.
Visitors took a one-hour hike through the woods and were able to try their hand at tapping some trees. To cap off the tour, everyone got a taste of authentic Coral Woods maple syrup.
Education program coordinator Andy Talley said the festival is educational and hands-on, which makes it more fun for children.
“It includes natural history, cultural history, science, chemistry and more,” he said. “Visitors learn about early methods of making syrup, and then they see a more modern method. It’s a really unique process, and people are fascinated.”
People often are surprised by the taste of the syrup. Volunteer Lesley Tennessen said Coral Woods’ syrup is the best she’s ever had.
“I’ve tasted a lot of different maple syrups from all over the Midwest and Vermont, and this is amazing. It’s got a buttery, spicy flavor,” she said.
Angie Gunn of Fox River Grove wanted to reinforce some of the lessons her son, Jackson, 8, has been learning with Cub Scouts. She said the tour was very interesting because they didn’t know how syrup was made.
“I thought this would be educational, and he loves it,” she said of her son. “He’s been standing in the front the entire time, so I know he’s very into it, which makes me happy.”
Rachel Riess was excited to be in the woods with her family. She said they had a big pancake breakfast before the tour to get into the “maple syrup spirit.”
“I thought this would be a fun thing to do on a sunny winter day, and we can learn something new,” Riess said. “[My son, Gabriel,] loves this. He’s been buzzing around here all morning. The more you learn about the outdoors, the better.”
Debbie Schleiffer and her husband, Keith, moved to McHenry about a year ago, and they were looking for ways to get involved with the community. She said they were curious about how trees are tapped.
“This is nostalgic. We love history and nature,” Debbie Schleiffer said. “We learned a lot of detail and facts delivered in a fun way. Real maple syrup is a delightful treat to the tongue. It’s very different than most maple syrups in the stores.”
The Festival of the Sugar Maples continues from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For information, visit www.mccdistrict.org.