February 8, 2006
Posted online February 9, 2006
Rich, sweet maple sap is drip, drip,
By Tim Crosby
A boy visiting Touch of Nature Environmental
Center tastes the sweet sap dripping from a newly installed tree
tap Monday, Feb. 6, at Touch of Nature. The center, part of
Southern Illinois University Carbondale, is holding a
month’s worth of classes for kids and adults on collecting
maple sap and making syrup and candy.
Kate Hellgren, environmental educator at Touch of
Nature Environmental Center, uses a hand drill to start a tap on
a sugar maple tree as a class of young students looks on, Monday,
Feb. 6, at Touch of Nature.
CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Rich, sweet maple sap is drip, drip,
dripping into pails at Touch of Nature Environmental Center, and
educators at the Southern Illinois University Carbondale facility
are hosting a month of events aimed at showing schoolchildren and
families how the savory liquid makes the transition from tree tap
Environmental educators at Touch of Nature in recent weeks
test-tapped several of the many sugar maples located in the dense
woods surrounding the center south of Carbondale.
"The sap is definitely running," said Kate Hellgren,
who is organizing the maple syrup programs this year. "The
trees basically need cold nights and warm days to get started,
and the weather has been right."
Scores of pre-kindergarten through sixth grade classes will
visit the center during the coming weeks for a three-hour program
that delves into the history, folklore and science behind making
maple syrup. Hellgren and others also have organized a two-hour
program for individuals and families exploring the process and
finishing with tree tapping and tasting.
Those interested should register now by calling 618/453-1121.
The program is set for 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18, at Touch of
Nature, nine miles south of Carbondale off Giant City Road.
Southern Illinois lies on the southernmost border for the
sugar maple and black maple tree range in the United States,
Hellgren said. The programs will look at the origins of maple
syrup and sugar through the eyes of American Indians and early
settlers. It also will discuss the legends of its discovery and
the many ways it was used by different cultures.
Participants will learn interesting facts about maple syrup.
During the Civil War, for instance, maple products became a
symbol of the Union North, which used sugar and syrup derived
from native trees while the South relied on cane sugar grown on
"For a time, maple syrup and sugar became a political
symbol," Hellgren said.
The program also discusses the natural history of maple syrup.
Participants will learn how to identify the sugar and black maple
and what causes the sap to run at certain times of the year. They
also will learn how to transform the sap into syrup and even into
sugar or candy.
Toward the end of the program, educators will tap trees by
pounding a "spile" through the bark. A spile is a
hollow metal tube that captures sap as it ascends from the tree
roots to nourish budding leaves. Harvesters next hang a bucket on
the end of the tube to catch the sap, which they later collect
and boil down to its sugary essence.
Before they leave, participants will get the chance to taste
the end result.
"It's a family oriented program," Hellgren said.
"This is meant for everyone."
Touch of Nature offers a wide variety of educational and
service programs at its 3,100-acre wooded compound on Little
Grassy Lake. The facility has been an interdisciplinary unit of
SIUC for more than 40 years.
Leading in research, scholarly and creative activities is
among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through
Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it
approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.
Photos by Russell