Maple syrup hikes return to Lake County

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Maple syrup hikes return to Lake County Forest Preserves in March for a tasty start to spring. (WLS)

Maple syrup hikes return to Lake County Forest Preserves in March for a tasty start to spring.

The annual tours at Ryerson Woods bring visitors up close to sugar maple trees, where maple syrup production begins. Hikers watch the tapping process while environmental educators, like Jen Berlinghof, explain how this relates to a tree's life-cycle.

"Leaves were busy making sap for the tree, making food for the tree through photosynthesis," she explained at a demonstration, adding that the sap moves down to the tree's roots for storage once leaves fall off in autumn.

Then, as nature thaws in late winter, shifting temperatures send a signal to the tree "that kick-starts a process in the tree which tells the tree to send that sap back up" to nourish budding leaves, said Berlinghof.

Drilling a hole into the tree during this short timeframe allows some sap to flow out into waiting 4-gallon buckets.Right out of the tree, this sap tastes sweet, but its mostly water. Berlinghof explained that after up to 15 hours in a heated evaporator, her team gets maple syrup that's 66 percent sugar. She said it takes 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of syrup.

Visitors learn about all of this on the hour-long tour, plus kids can practice drilling themselves. At the end of the hike, everyone gets a little cup of the finished product--which can't be bought anywhere.

Maple syrup hikes run Saturdays and Sundays from March 10 to March 25 every half-hour from noon to 2 p.m. Tickets are $6 per person for a sweet deal!
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