Slow but sweet maple syrup season

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Ian Gronau | April 5, 2014

TOWN OF EAST TROY -- Statistics won't be available until the official end of the season, but early indications show that 2014 may come up short, especially compared to last year, in terms of maple syrup production in Wisconsin.

Last year, maple syrup production hit a 20-year high in the state, but a bitter cold winter and lingering cool temperatures have delayed and shortened the season while decreasing potential yield. That said, the region will continue its annual maple syrup celebrations unabated in an attempt to have some family fun and communally enjoy the natural treat.

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Although the Stateline falls at the southern most expanse of maple syrup territory and the state hovers around the fourth and fifth place producer in the country, the breakfast staple is still very much a part of our regional heritage.

It's something the Welty Environmental Center takes great pleasure in celebrating every year. This weekend, they will be convening at Big Hill Park in Beloit for the annual Maple Sugar Festival.

"This is something that the Welty Center has done for nine years. It's an annual tradition celebrating the end of the maple sugar season," said center Director Lena Verkuilen. "We come out here every spring to Big Hill Park and tap the trees and do it as a demonstration for all the schools in the School District of Beloit. At the festival. we have the demonstration going on so you can still see."

Verkuilen explains that they usually tap the maple trees during the last week in February. This time of year usually provides the optimum conditions, which are temperatures above freezing during the day and below freezing at night.

"The freeze/thaw actually helps push the sap through the tree, and the sap is going to be sweet because what the tree is doing is sending energy up for the new leaves and buds," Verkuilen said. "As the buds grow into leaves the sugar in the sap begins to break up into starches; it will change the sap from sweet to bitter. This year, instead of starting collecting sap at the end of February like we usually do, our first day was March 10."

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Find more photos in the April 6 print or e-edition of Walworth County Sunday.

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