Josie Schmitt uses a bit and brace to drill a new tapping hole in a sugar maple tree at the Eagle Bluff Environmental Center near Lanesboro.
CHARLIE WARNER/NEWS LEADER Josie Schmitt uses a bit and brace to drill a new tapping hole in a sugar maple tree at the Eagle Bluff Environmental Center near Lanesboro.
This Saturday, March 18, area residents will be able to enjoy a “tasty” hands-on learning experience that has long been a late-winter tradition in southeast Minnesota. The Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center of Lanesboro will be hosting its annual Maple Syrup Fest from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

Those attending will be a part of the entire maple syrup making process, from identifying maple trees to a sap boil-off. Tours will start every half hour. Eagle Bluff staff will lead folks through the hardwood forest, identifying the sweet sap-producing sugar maple trees. Persons will be able to watch the tapping and collection process.

Participants will enjoy a tasty treat of locally-produced maple syrup and mini pancakes following the walk through the woods.

“Eagle Bluff has been doing this since 2013,” Josie Schmitt of Eagle Bluff said. “They’ve been tapping the maple trees out here since the early 2000s and decided to make this an educational experience a few years back.”

Between 30 and 50 maple trees are tapped each year, according to Eagle Bluff naturalist Bridgete Tonne. It depends on the year.

“Because of the mild winter and very warm February, the sap flow was earlier this year,” Tonne said. “We started tapping trees in mid-February, which is about three weeks earlier than most years. Some areas out east, like Vermont, started tapping maple trees in January, which is very early. It just depends on the winter.”

The cold spell, which the area just endured, slowed down the sap flow, Tonne pointed out. This up and down weather pattern could extend the flow for another month. The perfect scenario is to have cold nights (below freezing) and warm days (in the 40s).

Tonne explained that it takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup. A hole, about three-quarters of an inch in diameter is drilled into the trunk of a maple tree. A metal spigot is screwed into the hole and a metal collection bucket with a hinged lid is hung from the spigot. The sap is collected and poured into a large cauldron that is situated atop a huge wood-burning stove, where the sap is boiled for up to eight hours before it has been transformed to the sweet maple syrup.

Depending on the year, Tonne said between three and 13 gallons of maple syrup is produced each year at Eagle Bluff. That translates to a low of 120 gallons to a high of 520 gallons of sap is collected at the learning center near Lanesboro each year.

During the March 18 event, maple inspired arts and crafts will be available for all ages. This part of the program will be led by Eagle Bluff’s local partnering agency, Lanesboro Arts. Kids five and under are free. Pre-registration and walk-in registration are both welcomed. 

Schmitt encouraged those planning to attend to dress for the outdoors. Hiking boots are recommended, as participants will be trudging through the hilly woods at Eagle Bluff.

Collecting maple sap for syrup and maple sugar has been a tradition in North America for centuries. While there are written accounts of maple sugaring conducted by Native Americans dating back to 1557, the exact origins of sugaring are unknown, according to research done by the University of Vermont Libraries.