43rd Maple Syrup Festival showcases nature’s sweet side

The sweet smell of cooking sugar and the earthy aroma of wood fire tempted onlookers at the 43rd annual Maple Syrup Festival in Cunningham Falls State Park in Thurmont this past weekend.

Visitors who sampled the treat got a history lesson along with a fix for their sweet tooth, and they’ll get to do the same this coming weekend.

Park rangers explained the Native American origins of maple syrup and its importance in the colonial era as they demonstrated the process of boiling the clear sap into thick, brown syrup.

Rangers gave hourly syrup-making demonstrations from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the weekend-long event.

Ranger Jacob Doyle has been involved with the event since 2005. He likes showing people how simple the process is, but his favorite part is the history involved with it, he said.

If you go on March 16-17

  • The Maple Syrup Festival will continue from 9 a.m. to about 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
  • Cunningham Falls and Gambrill state parks are at 14039 Catoctin Hollow Rd., Thurmont.
  • A $2 minimum per-person donation is requested. Proceeds benefit Friends of Cunningham Falls and Gambrill State Parks.

    More info. at Md.’s DNR site.

The event also features a pancake breakfast, with Maryland-made maple syrup, crafts and videos for children, and live Appalachian music.

Steven Fleischer, of Damascus, has been coming to the demonstration with his family for about eight years, he said.

“The kids really like seeing it being made,” he said, “and we like to tie it into walking to the falls.”

Kerry Heinze, of Braddock Heights, brought her three young children for the first time this year.

“With the weather so nice, we wanted to see how they make maple syrup, because that is the only syrup we eat at home,” she said, explaining that the family avoids corn syrup.

She opted to take home maple candies, because they are harder to find than maple syrup, she said.

The Catoctin Mountain Tourist Council sells syrup and maple products to take home.

“It’s been a good season,” Tourism Council of Frederick County Treasurer Mike Irons said of sales.

The funds will likely go toward reopening the visitors center in Emmitsburg by U.S. 15, he said.

The event attracted about 3,000 visitors on Saturday, according to ranger Alicia Norris.

Participants are asked to donate a minimum of $2 per person to benefit the Friends of Cunningham Falls and Gambrill State Parks, which helps fund and organize park improvement projects.

For Doyle, the event is a way to show people how sweet nature can be, and why it is so important to conserve natural resources.

“I hope that people walk away with an appreciation of how we can benefit from nature, but also conserve,” he said. “If you abuse a resource, you’re not going to have it.”

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