Hikers explore maple season at Mill Creek Park


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Neighbors | Sarah Foor .Hiking guide and Mill Creek Park naturalist Ray Navotny led a hiking tour through the park on Mar. 6 to the Sugar Maple trees near Judge Morley Pavilion. Once Navotny and his guests arrived to the trees, he removed the bucket of sap from a collecting tree and offered everyone a taste.

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The happy, and a bit tired, hiking group smiled at the end of their tour. They had a lot to smile about: A few moments later, they finished their tour by stopping inside the warm Ford Nature Center to try maple spread and maple candies.

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Guests to the Maple Sugar hiking tour all were brave enough to try some of the natural maple sap. Sue Reniff (left), Joey Faginano, and Tina DeVito all gave the sap a happy taste.

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Bill Hahn (left) recently found maple trees on his property in Austintown that he has tapped and collected sap. Next to a modern metal and plastic sap collector (on tree), Hahn shared some interesting facts and knowledge about his process.

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Lara (left) and Tommy Sampson loved to explore a bit away from the trail during the Maple Sugar hiking tour. However, they always come back in time when the hiking group began to move on.

By SARAH FOOR

sfoor@vindy.com

Just behind Judge Morley Performing Arts pavilion in Mill Creek Park, a group of trees that look rather ordinary are actually going through quite a transformation this time of year.

The small grove near the pavilion contains about 20 sugar maple trees that, as the weather warms, create the sap that can become pure maple syrup.

On March 6, a group of syrup lovers accompanied Mill Creek naturalist Ray Navotny on a trip to see the sugar maple trees up close.

The tour began in the Ford Nature Center, where Navotny explained how the maple syrup process begins: Frequent freezing and thawing causes pressure to build in the tree until the sap begins to escape in late February and early March.

“Many people assume that maple syrup is only made in states like Vermont, but maple trees produce sap right here in Mill Creek Park,” Navotny told the group.

He then led a hike through the park to the sugar maples, where Navotny showed the group the taps he installed in two maples a few days before. He offered a plastic cups so guests could give it a try.

“It’s really good,” said young hiker Tommy Sampson.

“It tastes kind of like sweet water,” shared Tommy’s sister, Lara Sampson. “There’s only a tiny hint of maple flavor at the end.”

On the hike back to Ford Nature Center, hiker Bill Hahn told the group about installing taps into three maples on his property in Austintown.

“It’s a very delicate process,” Hahn told the group. “The sap is mostly water, but boiling out the water takes so much practice. It goes from watery to perfect syrup, but if you let it go too far, it will boil down to pure sugar and then to junk. There is an art to it all.”

Hahn answered questions from the group until the hikers arrived back at Ford Nature Center. Navotny offered maple spread and maple candies after the hike.

“It’s a sweet ending to a great day,” said hiker Tina DeVito as she tried a candy.

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