LAKE SHETEK - There wasn't any sap being boiled in the cauldron over the fire at Shetek Environmental Learning Center on Sunday, but the maple syrup was still flowing over pancakes in the nearby dining hall.
"It's our first time coming here. It's kind of fascinating, learning how they do (tapping the trees), " said Marshall resident Christian Guenther.
The Environmental Learning Center held its annual Sugarbush Boil-Off and pancake feed on Sunday, and although there were some chilly temperatures and not much of a harvest from the local maple trees, visitors were having a good time with food and fellowship.
Photo by Deb Gau
Kids visiting the Sugarbush Boil-Off at the Shetek Environmental Learning Center this past weekend got a chance to help tap a maple tree. Above, environmental educator Vickie Doeden helps Colby Miller hold a drill steady to make a hole in the tree.
Guenther said he, his wife Kim Guenther, and sons Coby and McCoy had been invited to the Boil-Off by their neighbors, Krista and Osa Hanneman. The families sat down to eat together, and had a chance to try some real maple syrup.
"It's sweeter, and not as thick" as store-bought syrup, Christian Guenther said.
A couple of tables over, Lee and Carol Carlson of Balaton were sharing a meal with their granddaughter Mikayla Parrie. It was a fun event, and "for a good cause," the Carlsons said.
Outside, clusters of people gathered around to learn how to tap a maple tree for syrup.
Several kids followed environmental educator Vicki Doeden, carrying the tools they needed - a hammer, a tap, a plastic jug to collect sap, and a cordless drill. With Doeden's supervision, they helped make a small hole on the south side of a maple tree.
"I got to do the drill first," said six-year-old Cooper Anderson, of Marshall. It took some effort for Cooper to power the heavy drill through the tree's bark.
"You really have to lean against it. Use your body weight," Doeden said.
The kids - and a few brave adults - also sampled some sap straight from one of the tapped trees.
"It's not too sweet," one group member said.
Normally, the sap collected at the Environmental Learning Center would be boiled down into syrup, but the cauldron Doeden had going was just for show this year. Between last fall's drought and the unusually warm winter and spring temperatures, the maple trees didn't produce enough sap. Doeden said she did have some Shetek maple syrup she made last year, but not enough to use for the whole pancake feed.
"I had to go out and buy pure maple syrup," she said.
Indoors, the dining hall was staying busy, with families having brunch while volunteers like Carly Holland and her brother Bo bussed tables and made sure the containers labeled "store brand" and "pure maple syrup" were full.
"They do this every year," said the kids' grandmother Bev Holland. It was too bad there wasn't a better harvest for syrup, she said, "But as long as you can remember the nice years, it's all right."