Every morning I am thankful for maple syrup (YUM). Whenever I’m in New England, I always hunt down maple sugar candy, and sometimes I prefer maple cookies to other cookies! For years I’ve been trying to attend one of the maple sugaring events, with no luck. The season is short in New Jersey because the weather has to be perfect with freezing nights and warmer days. This year, we cleared an afternoon to visit the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center in Chatham and we were finally able to see a maple sugaring demonstration.
We had never been to the Great Swamp Education Center or the trails, and we were impressed! There’s a parking lot (which was filled up by the time the program began) at the center and trails are marked. The center is open daily 9-4:30 PM and offers various programming throughout the year. After we paid the $3 entrance fee, the kids explored the interactive displays in the hallway where they learned about animal fur and scat, trees and birds of New Jersey, and track identification. Inside the room where the program was held was so much more! A live corn snake, turtle and cockroaches to look at, preserved animals and more.
The program began inside with a presentation by Stephanie, a Great Swamp employee who gave us plenty of information about sap collecting and even how to do it at home! The room was packed but kids sat up front and followed along as she discussed the parts of the tree and where the sap comes from, tree identification, and how to tap a tree. When we learned how to tap a tree at home, Stephanie drilled into a sample tree and put in a spile – the metal tap that the sap comes out of. Maple sugar farmers use tubing that runs to all their trees and then into a sugar shack where all the sap is boiled down, but home use (and Great Swamp trees too), drain into metal buckets. Maple sugaring takes a lot of patience though as the weather needs to be perfect. The sap doesn’t always come out quickly, and it takes 35 gallons to make one gallon of syrup! That’s why you pay so much for pure maple syrup (not the common pancake syrup which isn’t pure maple).
After 40 minutes inside we went outside to the evaporator, where the sap is boiled down for hours. The staff member explained the process and how you could do the same at home (if you have patience!), and then told legends of how maple sap/syrup was discovered. While outside you can see the trees nearby that are tapped at the start of the trails but we weren’t done yet. The end of the session is a tasting of three types of syrup to figure out which you like best! My favorite was the maple syrup made from sap taken from trees at the Great Swamp. Yum!
We spent some more time exploring all the indoor displays, but weren’t prepared to hike that day. It’s a must-do for us when the weather gets better!
Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center has multiple maple sugar demonstrations through the season, culminating in their Maple Sugar Festival. Can’t make it to Great Swamp? Take a look at our listing of other New Jersey maple sugar events!
Want to know more about what Great Swamp offers? Click over for our review about Great Swamp.
For more photos from our maple sugaring experience, see our Facebook album.