Sweet tradition: Learn the secrets of turning sap to syrup at various maple sugaring fests
The maple sap is flowing, which is a sure sign that spring is just around the corner. Learn how maple syrup is made, and maybe even try your hand at tapping a tree, at one of these events around the suburbs this month.
The Forest Preserves of Cook County offers several maple sugaring events:
• River Trail Nature Center: The center will offer "Sap's Rising" at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through March 19 at the River Trail Nature Center, 3120 Milwaukee Ave., Northbrook. Walk in the sugar maple forest to learn about the sweet process of maple syrup making. Registration is required for this free event by calling (847) 824-8360.
• Celebrate the arrival of spring with the Maple Syrup Festival, a special day of activities including crafts, games, tree tapping and maple syrup history, on Sunday, March 20. It will run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at River Trail Nature Center.
• Online: Trees offer an abundance of resources such as the sap used to make maple syrup. Each week during the sap run, staff from the nature center are talking about this liquid gold and show you a new or interesting way to eat maple syrup. Facebook message your weird and crazy suggestions and see if the staff picks yours to try. The "Sampling Syrups" Facebook Live events are at 2 p.m. Thursdays starting to March 17.
• Trailside Museum: Sign up for "Maple Tree Tapping" at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, March 12, at the Trailside Museum of Natural History, 738 Thatcher Ave., River Forest. Join in a short walk as naturalists discuss the history of tapping, tap a maple tree to taste some fresh sap and some finished syrup. Registration is required for this free program by calling (708) 366-6530.
• The Schaumburg Park District's Sugar Bush Fair, a popular celebration of spring's arrival, is back. It takes place from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, March 19, and Sunday, March 20, at Spring Valley Nature Center, 1111 E. Schaumburg Road, Schaumburg. Learn about the history of maple syruping at the demonstration areas, view historic re-enactments and enjoy one of the best breakfasts around, including pancakes, sausage, beverages and real maple syrup served under a large, enclosed tent located near the Merkle Cabin, a short walk from the Nature Center. A limited number of breakfasts will be served each morning. Breakfast is $6 for advance registrants or $8 at the door (if available). Admission to the Sugar Bush Fair and related activities are free. Call (847) 985-2100 or visit parkfun.com.
This month, the DuPage Forest Preserve District is offering "Maple Sugaring" at Kline Creek Farm in West Chicago.
Discover how sap becomes syrup as you try tapping with tools from the 1890s, check the collection buckets, and watch sap thicken over the fire.
The free, all-ages event will be from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through March 26, at Kline Creek, 1N600 County Farm Road. Participants younger than 18 must be accompanied by an adult.
No registration is required. For details, call (630) 876-5900 or visit www.dupageforest.org/calendar-of-events/kline-creek-farm.
• Learn how to tap a maple tree and taste pure, local syrup at the Maple Sugaring Days from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, March 5-6, at Creek Bend Nature Center in St. Charles.
Naturalists with the Forest Preserve District of Kane County will show visitors how to tap a maple tree, and you'll have the opportunity to try drilling and setting a tap. Participants will simmer sap over an open fire and watch as it thickens to syrup.
Then join in a hike to learn how to distinguish maples from other species of hardwood trees.
Afterward, drop in to the Maple Café to taste pure, local syrup. There will be ice cream that you can drizzle with maple syrup and hot chocolate available for purchase. Plus, Creek Bend Nature Center will be open. Visitors can enjoy the interactive exhibits and make a craft to take home.
No registration is required for this family-friendly program. Admission is free.
Creek Bend Nature Center is located within LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve, 37W700 Dean St., St. Charles.
For information on Maple Sugaring Days, call (630) 444-3190, visit www.kaneforest.com, or find us on social by searching @forestpreserve.
• The Fox Valley Park District's annual Maple Fest returns from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, March 19, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, March 20, at Red Oak Nature Center, 2343 S. River St. in Batavia. After a short indoor presentation, head out onto the trails to learn some of the history behind how this delicious product was made throughout the years before ending with a tasting. Additional refreshments will be available for purchase.
Everyone 3 years and older must have a ticket for entry to their timed presentation. To sign up, go to www.redoaknaturecenter.info/special-events/.
In-person, public Maple Syrup Hikes are offered Saturdays and Sundays, March 5-20, at Ryerson Conservation Area, 21950 N. Riverwoods Road, Riverwoods. Led by Lake County Forest Preserves educators, the one-hour hikes, open to all ages, run every half-hour from noon to 2 p.m. Visitors will be able to see how sap is transformed into maple syrup and can try a taste.
Ryerson Conservation Area has many maple trees and good soil. Syrup production only happens in late winter and early spring.
Tickets for Maple Syrup Hikes are required. Hikes fill up quickly, so register early. Cost is $6 per person; free for ages 3 or younger. Purchase tickets online at www.lcfpd.org/maple-syrup-programs-offered/ or call (847) 968-3321. Special sessions designed for Scouts or other large groups are also available. Free, self-guided hikes are available March 21-31. Browse all education programs and register online at LCFPD.org/calendar. Follow along on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @LCFPD for more educational resources, webinars and videos.
Celebrate the change of seasons at McHenry County Conservation District's Festival of the Sugar Maples March 5-7 and March 12-14 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Coral Woods Conservation Area, 7400 Somerset Drive in Marengo. This is a free event, but registration is required at MCCDistrict.org.
Since 1979, the Conservation District has educated thousands of visitors and school groups about the process of turning the sap from maple trees into delicious maple syrup. Tours begin every 15 minutes, last approximately one hour and involve a half-mile hike through the woods. All ages are welcome; dress for the weather. No pets please.
Looking to try to tap your own maple tree? Pick up a spile or two with instructions on how to make your own syrup. Pure maple syrup, maple leaf shaped cookie cutters and maple flavored candies, syrup straws, cream spread and cookies will be available for purchase.
The festival coincides with the Union Lions Club Pancake Breakfast on Sundays, March 7 and 13, from 7 a.m. to noon at Union Fire Protection District, 6606 Main St. in Union. Pick your time slot for the festival for before or after breakfast and enjoy two great events featuring maple syrup. For information, call (815) 479-5779 or visit www.MCCDistrict.org.