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How sweet it is!

February 25, 2007|by PEPPER BALLARD

CLEAR SPRING - For the past two weeks, three Clear Spring High School students have measured tapped sap from the Fairview Outdoor Education Center's sugar maple trees in preparation for the Saturday's fourth annual Maple Sugar Festival.

What they've found, according to both the students and retired state park ranger Chuck Bowler, is that this winter's temperatures have made for low sap production.

"It's a bad year for sap," Bowler said. "It's either been completely cold or completely warm."

Normally, the outdoor school's eight maple sugar trees used for the festival produce about 30 gallons of sap in late February and early March, when temperatures are ideal for sap: Cold at night and warm during the day.

So far this sap season, the trees only have produced three gallons, Bowler said.

"Fifty cups of sap make one cup of syrup," said Pearle Howell, an outdoor school teacher. "You have to boil and boil and boil the sap."

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But those who attended the festival were not tasting syrup made from the school's tree sap. They were tasting syrup and maple cream made in Garrett County, Md.

Howell said the school would need a special license before allowing its syrup to be tasted.

Madison Welsh, 7, said she liked tasting maple cream, a comment that stirred her 4 1/2 year-old sister Ellie, who had been struggling for words.

"I liked it, too," Ellie said.

The festival began when the school's young sugar maple trees grew to be 12 inches wide, a width requirement needed to place a spile in the tree's bark, which acts as a tap and allows the sap to flow better from the tree.

Bowler showed people how sap is boiled and made into syrup, and surprised a few people when he told them that some popular commercial pancake syrups not only have low levels of actual maple syrup, but also contain an ingredient used in dishwasher detergent.

A bundled Billy Surber looked to his mother, Maggie Surber, to help him say what he got out of the festival, aside from some bright green face paint.

"We got to see woodpecker holes in the trees, right?" Maggie Surber asked her 5-year-old son.

"Yeah, and the sap ran right out of it," Billy said.

He then said he learned about hot dogs, prompting his mother to offer more guidance.

"You learned syrup comes out of trees, right?" she asked.

"Yeah, and the woodpeckers do that," he said.

Ed Hazlett, head teacher at the school, said about 400 people turned out for the annual event. He said many Clear Spring Elementary School students who just finished their stay at the center returned Saturday to show their parents what they did.

About 20 Clear Spring High School Future Farmers of America members volunteered at the festival.

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