LAKE SHETEK - It didn't seem to matter that the sap wasn't running very well Monday on the grounds of the Shetek Environmental Learning Center because the Marshall Public School second-graders still had a blast learning everything there was to know about maple syrup.
"It was awesome," Parkside Elementary student Calin Kor said.
After breaking up into smaller groups, three MPS second-grade classes took turns locating maple trees and then tapping the trunks for sap.
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Marshall Public School second-grader Brent Bowen took aim at a tree stump target after hearing about the legend of the tomahawk Monday on a field trip to Shetek Environmental Learning Center.
"We've had quite a few classes come out here," said Vicki Doeden, the environmental educator at the environmental center. "This year, we have more than the last couple of years. I think everybody has spring fever."
Unfortunately, the unseasonably warm temperatures have hindered the production of sap so far this year. Doeden said she realized what was happening, but felt that the field trip experiences were still well worth it.
"The key ingredient is that it must be freezing at night and then warm up during the day into the '40s and '50s," Doeden said. "We're not getting the freezes at night. With so many days of this hot weather, there are very few trees that are running yet. It needs the cold. I'm doubtful that it will start up again."
The last two years, the sap was affected by the insulating layer of snow.
"The sap wasn't running as good because the ground wasn't freezing like it normally does," Doeden said. "Other seasons, it's typical that it starts up, stops and starts up again. But this is such a long spell of warm weather, I don't think it will happen this year."
Doeden also observed blossoms on the trees instead of buds on the tips.
"That's too far gone," she said. "All the sap is going up to the new growth now at this point. Most years, the trees will share. But this year's it's not going to. But that's nature."
While sap collection was slim Monday, the students, their teachers and a few parents in attendance got to sample two types of maple syrup.
"They got to taste store-brand maple syrup and syrup they made here from the trees," second-grade teacher Theresa Leek said. "And they got to try brown sugar. They just cook it down to make it brown sugar and they shake that into everybody's hand and they taste that, too."
Second-grader Hailey Brandt enjoyed the taste-testing the best.
"I liked the syrup," she said. "All of it."
Shelby Ormberg pointed out the biggest difference between the two syrups.
"The sap from the tree was really watery," Ormberg said.
Doeden explained that it took 50 one-gallon jugs of sap to make one jug of pure maple syrup.
"It's a lot of cooking, but it's well worth it to have yummy, pure maple syrup," she said.
Next, the students were told about the legend of the tomahawk, which was thought to have been involved in the accidental discovery of the sweet sap. Portraying a young Indian brave, Willy Grimmius plunged his tomahawk into a maple tree for some time before pretending to head out to hunt rabbits while his family stayed back to make stew.
"When he pulled the tomahawk out of the tree, it left a cut," said Doeden, who portrayed the brave's wife. "The sap drizzled down into a bowl and as it boiled down, the stew got sweeter. That's the legend of how maple syrup was discovered."
Then, according to many of the students, the highlight of the field trip was when each of them got the opportunity to throw the tomahawk at the stump target.
"I liked throwing the tomahawk the best," Kor said.
Caiden Smidt's favorite part was "throwing the axe," he said.
Ayden Ochs said she had a really good time at the environmental learning center.
"It was fun," she said. "I liked tasting the stuff and throwing the tomahawk."
Ormberg and Danya Estrada both liked tasting the syrup and hurling the tomahawk the best.
"I liked trying the tomahawk, tasting the syrup and tapping the trees," Estrada said. It was fun."
Leek explained that Pride in the Tiger funded part of the field trip, which included eight second-grade sections.
"Our other five classes came Friday," Leek said. "I'm so glad we get to do it. It's such a good experience."
While the sap might not be cooperating this year, Doeden said, it won't deter people from enjoying the annual Sugarbush Boil-Off scheduled for Sunday, Mar. 25 from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
"We're going to be doing demonstrations during that time, and then we'll be serving traditional pancakes, with sausages, eggs, all those goodies, with the pure maple syrup," Doeden said. "I just can't say that it's going to be all Shetek maple syrup this year."