Weekend planner: One sweet tradition

Weekend planner: One sweet tradition

Due to the weather, Forest Glen Preserve won't have much maple syrup to sell this year. But its popular Maple Syrup Open House and Pancake/Sausage Dinner will take place, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Sugar Bush, where syrup is processed, and Gannett Outdoor Education Center, where dinner is served. Go early. "We serve 900. Some people wait in line an hour to an hour and a half," said Ken Konsis, executive director of the Vermilion County Conservation District. "They don't seem to mind. First of all, it's a social thing. They start talking to people in line. And it's a fundraiser for the district. Plus, we're using pure maple syrup, not Log Cabin." Here's the lowdown:

1. Tickets for the dinner are $5 for adults and $2.50 for children 12 and younger (217-662-2142 for information). Usually, maple syrup processed from sugar maples at Forest Glen also is sold, but this year there won't be much because the daytime temperatures have not been warm enough to cause the sap to run. "We did collect close to 500 gallons on Monday," Konsis said Wednesday. "Yesterday was kind of a wash. It was kind of cool, and we collected 30 gallons at one site. It was not worth the labor. Today, we think we will get another 500. That will cover the dinner at least. Anymore is gravy."

2. Forest Glen Preserve, in the Vermilion River valley, about 45 miles southeast of Champaign, began producing maple syrup commercially in 1984. In the early years, Forest Glen staffers offered maple syrup demonstrations for the public by simply boiling down maple sugar water. Because 42 gallons of sugar water are required to produce 1 gallon of syrup, the output was minimal. So the Conservation District purchased a 30-inch by 10-foot evaporator for its "Sugar Bush" building near the Gannett Outdoor Education Center. Schoolchildren visit Sugar Bush each year; the public also is invited to tour the facilities.

3. Peak production at Forest Glen is around 100 gallons of maple syrup a season, which translates into 4,200 gallons of boiled-down sugar water. Forest Glen is perhaps the third-largest producer of maple syrup in Illinois, rivaled by Funks Grove near Bloomington and a private producer in Effingham. As did its syrup production, Forest Glen's Pancake/Sausage Dinner started out small, more than 25 years ago. "We maybe made a quart the first year," Konsis said. "The next year, we did a trial run and program and invited 25 people. We showed how to tap the trees, had an indoor slide show and topped it off with a dinner. We figured, 'Hey, we can do this,' and now we do what we do today."

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