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A sap run is the sweet good-bye of winter.
And a fond adieu we bid it, too: Winter does have a tendency to wear out its welcome. A wonderful way to show it the door is to join in a celebration of Wisconsin's sweetest produce, maple syrup.
Birch and elm can take a tap, but maples produce more and sweeter sap. Acer saccharum trees are tapped in early spring when temperatures freeze at night and thaw during the day, causing the sap to flow. You can watch trees being tapped from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on April 7 during Maplefest at the MacKenzie Environmental Education Center in Poynette. The process of boiling down sap – it takes 34-43 or more gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup – requires patience and a steady flame. To stoke up your energy for the task, feast on a stack of pancakes flipped by members of the Poynette Optimist Club. Those all-you-can-eat hotcakes will be served – of course! – with fresh syrup made by the MacKenzie Maple Mavens, a/k/a Friends of MacKenzie. A raffle and free horse-drawn wagon rides add to the festivities. While you're there, visit the live Native Wisconsin Wildlife Exhibit (deer, bison, wolf, eagle, mountain lion, lynx, turkey and more) and the arboretum with more than 100 kinds of trees and shrubs. (608) 635-8110. See MacKenzie Environmental Education Center
As of 2006, Wisconsin ranked as the fourth largest maple syrup producer in the nation. At Ocooch Mountain Acres you can observe the commercial aspects of maple syrup production. The Ocooch factory, housed in a 1905 feed mill in downtown Westby (pop. 2,147), offers a three-hour tour that includes maple syrup sampling and views of the equipment used to make syrup, maple cream, maple sugar and maple candy. Visitors with serious sugar habits can purchase maple syrup in bulk. (608) 634-6228. See Ocooch Mountain Acres.
Where else can you go to see the sap flow? Visit Wisconsin Maple Sugar Producers for a current listing of open house days at sugar bushes across the state. Visit SavorWisconsin.com for a list of Wisconsin firms that bottle up their own syrups and box up maple sugar goodies for sale.
On April 10, NLDC naturalist Zach Wilson and master birder Bruce Bacon will head out for a late night in the woods, and you're welcome to join their party. They're particularly interested in finding saw-whet owls to band for tracking and research. If the weather and birds cooperate, you may be able to hold one of these tiny owls in the palm of your hand while it's being banded. The search party leaves the center at 9 p.m. $15 members; $18 non-members. (877) 543-2085. North Lakeland Discovery Center Community Programs
If you're fond of trees but your tastes run to Merlot rather than maple, plan to attend Nibbles 'N Knowledge, hosted by the North Lakeland Discovery Center (NLDC) in Manitowish Waters on April 12. The evening begins with hors d'oeuvres and a cash bar at 5 p.m. Mingle for an hour or so, then enjoy a talk by nurseryman Chad McGrath. He'll offer tips and discuss plans for building backyard habitat to attract different kinds of wildlife. The event will be held at Camp Jorn YMCA in Manitowish Waters. $12 members; $15 non-members.