A sure sign spring is on the way is the tapping of sugar maple trees at Ryerson Conservation Area near Riverwoods.
This year, however, drought conditions that have continued since spring 2012 are being taken into account. It was only this past week that the National Weather Service officially changed its "moderate drought" designation to "abnormally dry" for most of Lake County.
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Ryerson is one of the few local areas where climate conditions are right for maple syrup production and where the trees grow to a diameter and height that allows for tapping. For this maple syrup season, the naturalists at Ryerson will take a conservative approach to sugar maple tapping that occurs annually in February.
Traditionally, 30 to 35 sugar maple trees are tapped for syrup production. This year, based on recommendations from the University of Vermont's Proctor Maple Research Center, a more conservative number of trees, 10 to 15, will be tapped in an effort to curb the stress to the sugar maple trees.
Although there will be a significant decrease in the quantity of trees tapped, it will not affect the popular Maple Syrup Hikes, which are offered the first three weekends in March. The hikes are offered Saturdays and Sundays, March 2-17, providing visitors with a tour, and taste, of the process.
The one-hour hikes run every half-hour from 12:30-2:30 p.m. and are open to all ages. Registration is required. Cost to attend is $6 per person, and there are special sessions designed especially for large parties or Scout groups. Call (847) 968-3321 to save your spot or register online.
To learn more about drought conditions in the area, visit the National Weather Service's drought report.
Ryerson is on Riverwoods Road, south of Half Day Road and west of the Tri-State Tollway, in Riverwoods. For information on this or other Lake County Forest Preserve programs, call (847) 367-6640 and request a free copy of the Horizons quarterly newsletter.