Joe Warfield, 77, a long time volunteer from Reisterstown,… (Brendan Cavanaugh/P3 Imaging,…)
At first, the clear liquid doesn't quite resemble the thick, gooey brown substance dribbled across pancakes and French toast, but naturalists assured the crowds gathered Saturday at Oregon Ridge Park that the sap tapped from maple trees, with a little elbow grease, would make maple syrup.
Several hundred came for tours led by the Baltimore County park employees over the weekend for the annual Maple Sugar Weekend held each February, when weather conditions help the flow of sap with cold nights and warmer days.
"It was really informational," said Lawrence Almengor of Harford County, who came with his wife, three young children and his parents. He said he and his wife, Briana Almengor, home-school their 6-year-old twin sons Tucker and Judah and daughter Bella, 4.
"Anything they can experience hands-on like that is great," said Briana Almengor.
Lawrence Almengor said his kids weren't the only ones learning. "I didn't know you could make sap using different trees," he said.
"I didn't realize it wasn't sticky, I learned a lot," his wife said, adding that she didn't realize that Maryland had its own maple syrup producers.
The state is not among the top 10 maple producers, but several farms continue to tap sap, mostly in Western Maryland, where Garrett County was the maple capital of the U.S. in 1928, according to a 2009 Frederick News-Post article.
On Saturday, the Almengor family, along with about 30 others, followed park naturalist Aaron Sass for an afternoon tour outside the park's nature center off Beaver Dam Road in Cockeysville.
"What tools do we need?" he asked the group. One boy shouted out, "A chainsaw."
A few adults chuckled, as Sass responded, "What we actually used is a drill," showing the crowd a hand drill.
"This will allow us to get a little sap, but will allow the tree to recover," he said. He then showed the group how to make the spile, which helps the water sap drain from a tree.
He stopped at one "super sweet" maple, which because of select breeding had the highest concentration of sugar, at about 2 percent. He pulled off the plastic milk jug already in place and the kids each got a turn to taste the sap dripping from the spile.
After a short hike. the group selected a box elder maple as the source for sap to make their own syrup. Sass looked it over for other holes, reminding the crowd that too many will kill the tree, and stuck the drill into the gray bark.
As he held it in place, each kid got a chance to help turn the hand drill. He used a hammer to drive the spile into the tree and placed an apple cider jug underneath to catch the light drip.
Back near the nature center building, the group watched as volunteers boiled the watery sap, removing the water and creating a thick mixture. Everybody got to try a sample — first of the sap, which tasted like a melted snowball, and then of dollops of the sweet brown syrups made from different trees.
Syrup from the "Maple Syrup Weekends" is poured over pancakes at the annual pancake breakfast at the Oregon Ridge Lodge, held on the first weekend in March, from 8 a.m. to noon each day.