March Means Maple Madness in Northeast Ohio
“Maple syrup is immensely important to the Geauga County economy,” says Lynda Nemeth, Director of Geauga County Tourism. “The maple sugaring season affords us an early jump on tourism, at a time when there’s pretty much nothing else doing.”
The maple syrup season officially kicks off in mid February with the Burton Tree Tappin Ceremony. It ends, approximately three months later, with the Geauga County Maple Festival. In between, literally thousands of sap-seekers make a pilgrimage to Northeast Ohio to immerse themselves in the grand, sweet tradition of maple syrup.
Of the 12 maple syrup-producing states in the U.S., Ohio consistently ranks fourth or fifth each year. And in Ohio, Geauga County is king, producing more syrup than any other county — a full 60 percent of all syrup produced in the state. The reason is simple: Snow.
“Trees love moisture — they love rain and they love snow,” explains Jen Freeman, President of Ohio Maple Producers Association. “The more snow a location receives the longer and better the maple syrup season.”
This year, the Ohio Maple Producers Association is hosting what it calls “March Maple Madness,” a drive-it-yourself tour of selected maple sugaring producers and events in Ohio. A full half of them are located in Geauga County. Though the event officially ends the last weekend of March, most producers continue hosting visitors until late April.
Some of the most popular events include pancake breakfasts, sugarhouse tours, horse-drawn wagon rides, and of course maple syrup tastings. Though there are literally dozens of possible stops, each one manages to be unique and worthy of a visit, says Freeman. Some producers still do things the old way, gathering the sap in buckets and evaporating it over an open fire. Others offer a glimpse of the latest state-of-the-art technology, with tubing collection systems and computer-controlled evaporators.
Regardless of which ones you choose, dress for the weather, which means jackets, boots, hat and mittens.
In addition to her post with the Ohio Maple Producers Association, Jen Freeman can also be found at Richards Maple Products, a 101-year-old retailer of maple syrup, maple candy, and maple syrup-making equipment. Freeman says that in recent year the store has seen a definite uptick in demand for equipment.
“More and more, people like to know where their food is coming from,” she explains. “They are planting gardens, raising chickens and making syrup. Plus, what else are you going to do this time of year? It’s cruddy out.”
Novices can get started for less than $100, she notes, which is pretty cheap as far as hobbies go. Hard sugar maples are the preferred trees, but the softer red and silver maples can be tapped for sap as well. It can take anywhere from 45 to 80 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.
Some highlights include the following:
Grossman Maple Products (12147 Claridon-Troy Rd., East Claridon, 44033, 440-231-5647)
Inside this gorgeous timber-framed sugarhouse, roughly 1,200 gallons of sap will be boiled down over a wood-fired evaporator to about 300 gallons of fine maple syrup. Purchase the syrup on site. Open the last weekend of March and by appointment.
Swine Creek Reservation (16004 Hayes Rd., Middlefield, 44062)
Sap’s-A-Risin’! (March 20, noon to 4 p.m.) Experience the art of making maple syrup from gathering sap to tasting the finished product. Includes a costumed history tour ideal for young kids.
Pancake Breakfast in Pancake Town, USA (aka Burton)
Berkshire High School (14510 N Cheshire St., Burton, 44021, 877-283-3496)
This is the 58th year for the Middlefield Rotary Club’s popular annual pancake breakfast. Enjoy all-you-can-eat fluffy pancakes covered with pure maple syrup. March 20 and 27.
Richards Maple Products (545 Water St., Chardon, 44024, 440-286-4160)
This 100-year-old business sells all matter of maple syrup, maple confection, and maple syrup-making equipment. Enjoy a unique and delicious “sap dog,” a hot dog cooked in maple sap and topped with maple mustard.
Sugar Valley Maple (15771 Chipmunk Ln., Middlefield, 44062)
This facility is Amish owned and operated by the Miller family, which means they accept no visitors on Sundays. And no cameras are permitted. Despite being Amish run, the facility is state-of-the-art.
Creekside Maple (16767 Swine Creek Rd., Middlefield, 44062, 440-632-9241)
This traditional maple syrup facility, run by Bob Welder, boasts a 600-tap system and offers tours most Saturdays and Sundays. They also hold a pancake breakfast each Saturday.
Sugarbush Creek Farm (13034 Rt. 528, Middlefield, 44062)
Visitors to Sugarbush can hop a ride to the high-tech sugarhouse via horse-drawn wagon. Sip and sample syrup in the maple tasting room.
Geauga County Maple Festival
Historic Chardon Square
Cap off the official maple syrup season with a monster pancake breakfast, a maple auction, rides and arts and crafts. Runs April 28 through May 1. Admission is free.