By TIM CLEVELAND
After approximately 100 maple trees were planted at Mill Creek MetroParks in the 1950s with the purpose of tapping them for sap, that project is just beginning to pay off.
Last year was the first time the trees were tapped and while the results were good, things could have been better. The lack of a central facility to process and store the sap was a detriment, so construction began on a building for that purpose.
On April 30 the ribbon cutting ceremony was hosted for the new Maple Sugar House at the James L. Wick Recreation Area through the hard work and donations of the nearby Rocky Ridge Neighbors Association, plus the Youngstown Foundation, Gelbman Foundation, J. Ford Crandall Foundation, Mill Creek MetroParks, the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley, USDA, 4th Ward funds from Mike Ray, and the Home Savings Foundation. The project cost $41,000 to complete.
“It started in 2012,” Mill Creek MetroParks director of development Linda Kostka said of the project’s origins. “Paul Hagman and John Slanina (president of the Rocky Ridge Neighbors Association) had gone on a hike with Ray Novotney to this area to learn about the Charles S. Robinson Maple Grove. They got the idea that maybe we should think about tapping the trees. They approached the MetroParks and we thought that’s a fabulous idea. They went and took classes and learned how to work the evaporator. They got the evaporator funded and last spring we put it out at the Sound Booth. It was really cold but he a good season because the weather conditions were perfect for maple syrup. They really spearheaded the entire thing.
“We ended up with about 400 bottles last year even in, compared to this, primitive conditions. We ended up with about $2,600 as our share, which we put toward the construction of our children’s play area.”
The first batch of syrup sold out last year in the first 24 hours.
“We expect at 10 o’clock arrives tomorrow morning that there’ll be a line out the door for the syrup,” Kostka said.
This year, with much worse weather conditions, the output was 350 eight-ounce bottles which sell for $15 each. The sale began May 1 at Fellows Riverside Gardens.
“Considering we had almost less than a four-week season that’s not bad, but the operation was much more efficient.”
In addition to being a volunteer with Rocky Ridge Neighbors Association, Hagman was also the architect of the Maple Sugar House.
“I live not too far from here, and my good friend John Slanina is the president of the Rocky Ridge Neighbors Association, which is the organization that started this project,” he said. “I just got involved with being involved with the rocky ridge neighbors association. The proceeds that went into this really helped bring the community together. It really is a social enterprise project. That money is being re-distributed through the community by the sale of the syrup.”
While the building is almost complete, Hagman said there are a couple minor things that still need to be done, such as constructing a 12-foot opening in the front of the building to allow educational groups to come and watch the process. The building includes two 125-gallon tanks for sap storage plus an evaporator.
“We expect it to be done real soon, but the weather has caused a few delays,” Hagman said. “The inside is going to remain like this. It really is a utilitarian building. It doesn’t need to be fancy, but we do have some doors to install.
“It’s built to be an educational tool for the MetroParks planned events.”
Hagman said that as time goes on, production can be increased for the extraction of maple sap.
“We feel as this project expands over the next few years and as we get more efficient, we can ramp that production up,” he said. “We’ve identified about 50 more trees that we can tap. One of the big areas of efficiency was just the sap storage. Because you’re dealing with sub-freezing temperatures oftentimes, you don’t want your sap to freeze completely but you need to keep it cold. Keeping this inside kept them at just the right temperature for the production to continue.”