Let it flow: Maple syrup programs on tap at Minnesota state parks

Getting a taste for maple-syrup tapping in the outdoors is becoming every bit as popular as, ultimately, the end result of this exercise: Enjoying the taste of maple syrup at the breakfast table.

And, thanks to a related Minnesota DNR program, it's no longer just for hard-core maple syrup "harvesters." At state parks around Minnesota, families, kids, novices and the like get an up-close look at this spring-time tradition.

Dave Palmquist, retired DNR naturalist at Whitewater State Park, leads a past maple syrup program. (Minnesota DNR)

According to the DNR, maple sap runs best when daytime temperatures are in the high 30s to mid-40s and overnight temperatures are below freezing. This cycle of above-freezing days and below-freezing nights needs to continue for several days, although nature occasionally has been known to provide a good run under less perfect conditions, the DNR said. Sometimes sap flows as early as January or as late as May, but in Minnesota, sap usually runs from about March 15 to April 20.

This year, with winter still lingering, it's thought that tapping is about two weeks behind the norm. Programs started March 3 at Whitewater State Park near Winona and are scheduled through early April, but with winter still lingering, those later program dates might prove best. (Click here for an up-to-date schedule.)

At some parks, those interested may stop in any time for a syrup-making demonstration; others offer hands-on instruction with a taste of the finished product. Participants learn how to identify and tap the right kind of tree as well as how to boil the sap collected until it is ready to enjoy. It usually takes 30 to 40 gallons of tree sap to get a gallon of pure maple syrup, the DNR said.

Sap dripping from a maple tree at Lake Maria State Park. (Minnesota DNR)

Some highlights of the maple-syrup program schedule:

Due to space limitations, some programs require advance registration. And occasionally, due to extreme weather or other conditions, an event may be canceled or postponed. When in doubt, call the park, the DNR said.

For more information, contact the DNR Information Center by emailing [email protected] or calling 888-646-6367 (8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday). The maple syrup programs at Minnesota state parks are free, but vehicle permits are required to enter the parks ($7 for a one-day permit or $35 for a year-round permit).

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