Learn how to turn sap into syrup

For more than 40 years, educators and volunteers at the Lake County Forest Preserves have led popular Maple Syrup Hikes through Ryerson Conservation Area in Riverwoods.

Each March, families, school groups and Scouts learn about the process of converting sap from the preserve's towering sugar maple trees into sweet syrup.

"Environmental educators are preparing a full slate of programs taking place in March," Director of Education Nan Buckardt said. "We are looking forward to offering both in-person and virtual programs this spring."

In-person, public Maple Syrup Hikes are offered Saturdays and Sundays through March 19 at Ryerson Welcome Center. Led by Lake County Forest Preserves educators, the one-hour hikes run every half-hour from noon to 2 p.m. and are open to all ages.

The temperature dictates what visitors will see along the trails, said Environmental Educator Jen Berlinghof.

"The timing for tapping maple trees comes down to temperature - above freezing during the day but still below freezing at night - plus precipitation and the hours of sunlight in a day," she said.

Changing temperature is what causes the sap to surge upward from the roots toward the branches, where it helps the leaves grow and the buds bloom. Then, in the summer, the leaves will produce more sap, which will settle back down in the roots come winter, Berlinghof said.

"Visitors are able to witness the wonder of turning sap from sugar maple trees into sweet maple syrup. All registered participants can have a taste," Berlinghof said.

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 and younger. Purchase tickets online or call (847) 968-3321.

Special sessions designed for Scouts or other large groups are also available.

Throughout March, teachers and Scout leaders are encouraged to reserve in-person field trips. Learn more about maple syruping school programs online or email to begin the registration process.

"If your family is ready to hit the trails, we are providing free, self-guided Maple Syrup Hikes from March 20-31. Through informational signs, you'll learn the science behind how trees make sap and how we turn that sap into real maple syrup as you walk along the designated trail at your own pace," Berlinghof said.

Browse all education programs and register online at, or call (847) 968-3321. Follow along on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @LCFPD for more educational resources, webinars and videos.

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Environmental Educator Jen Berlinghof leads a Maple Syrup Hike. Courtesy of Lake County Forest Preservers
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