NORTH SALEM — No offense, Mrs. Butterworth's, but McCloud Nature Park is celebrating the real stuff.
The park will host its third annual Maple Syrup Days for two weekends: Feb. 23-24 and March 2-3. Various maple syrup-making demonstrations such as Native American and pioneer methods, hands-on tree tapping practice, and maple tree identification pointers will be ongoing.
Making authentic maple syrup starts in a sugar bush, a group of maple trees that are tapped for their sap that is collected in buckets and transferred to an evaporator for cooking. Sap from sugar maples is watery, but has a high sugar content and can be boiled down into maple syrup. This historic process, called maple sugaring, will be conducted at McCloud prior to and during the educational programs being offered to the public on the two weekends.
Thanks to contributions over many weeks by the Hendricks County Parks Department's volunteer force, many gallons of authentic maple syrup will be sampled by park visitors while witnessing a lost art first mastered by Native Americans. For centuries, Indians tapped maples, gashed the bark under the tap in a V-shape, and put out large birch bark bowls under the tap for collection. Earlier Indians would pour the sap into a hollowed-out log, birch bark, or clay kettle and drop hot rocks into the cooking vat until most of the water was boiled away. Later, Indians improved the process by pouring the sap into a clay or iron kettle held over a campfire, which led to a better product where the maple flavor was more pronounced.
Maple Syrup Days free tours begin at the nature center every hour, on the hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 23 and March 2 and 1 to 4 p.m. Feb. 24 and March 3.
Also on March 2 and 3, the fifth annual pancake breakfast fundraiser will be conducted at McCloud to benefit the Parks Foundation of Hendricks County, a charitable non-profit organization whose mission is to fund developments for Hendricks County parks. Guests will get to eat pancakes topped with the freshly-made McCloud maple syrup. On Saturday, seating times start at 8 a.m. and continue on the hour until 3 p.m. Sunday seating times are on the hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Space is limited in the nature center, so reservations are required and may be made by calling the parks department's main office at 718-6188.
The breakfast is a fundraiser and freewill donations will be accepted.
Additional details and directions to the park are listed on the Hendricks County Parks & Recreation website at www.hendrickscountyparks.org.