Maple Sugaring Festival at Nixon Park a sweet treat for families and groups

Katherine Ranzenberger

It was 61 degrees outside, the sun was out and the smell of a campfire tinged with a little sweetness filled the air.

More than a dozen Cub Scouts from Pack 23 of St. Matthews Lutheran stood around the fire watching four pots of bubbling sap. Those pots were filled with sap at the four stages on the way to becoming maple syrup.

“It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup,” said Francis Velazquez, manager of education at Richard M. Nixon County Park. “It was a family affair. People spent eight hours a day over the fire making sure the sap was boiling at just the right temperature.”

The Cub Scouts “ooh”d and “ahh”d as Velazquez dipped a ladle into each pot to explain the consistency of each one to the group. They were a part of the nearly 500 people to come through the park on the Maple Sugaring Festival Weekends.

Volunteer Melanie Brady of Dallastown stirs pots of boining maple syrup during Maple Sugaring Weekend at Richard M. Nixon County Park, Sunday Feb. 28, 2016. John A. Pavoncello photo

“Yesterday we had about 250 people come through,” Mary Ronan, a park naturalist, said. “We’re hoping to get about 1,000 through the two weekends.”

Groups like Pack 23 and families can go on a tour, walking about a mile around the park, and can watch trees get tapped for sap. Cub Master Heather Klinefelter said she loved bringing the group of Cub Scouts out to the center to learn and get experience outside.

“We focus a lot on outdoor cooking,” she said. “It’s not just learning about the maple syrup and how it’s made. Nixon is great for learning about everything. They have a lot of different areas the kids can learn through.”

Cubscouts from Pack 23 in York City and others watch a demonstration of how Native Americans rendered maple syrup during Maple Sugaring Weekend at Richard M. Nixon County Park, Sunday Feb. 28, 2016. John A. Pavoncello photo

Velazquez explained the whole process, from tapping the tree to collecting the sap and boiling it down to the sweet stuff that goes so well with pancakes and waffles.

“We use red maples because sugar maples don’t grow here,” he said. “We tap the south side of the tree because I want to tap the side that warms up the quickest during the day.”

Kids said “whoa” as Velazquez drilled into the tree using a small hand drill. They watched closely as he used a hammer to insert the spiel into the side of the tree.

“You want a cold winter night and a good spring day,” he explained to the group. “It lets the bubbles in the tree get smaller and pushes the sap out. We only take 10 percent of the sap out of the tree, but we want to make sure the tree is healthy.”

Jacob George, 7, left, Jaezon Malone, 4, and Vladimire Almonte watch Francis Velazquez from York County Parks tap a maple tree during Maple Sugaring Weekend at Richard M. Nixon County Park, Sunday Feb. 28, 2016. John A. Pavoncello photo

Some kids couldn’t wait to try the cooked-down maple sap. Esten Moulton, a 3-year-old from York, sat with his mom, dad and sister and dipped his pancakes into the different kinds of syrup. This was the family’s first time going on the Maple Sugaring tour.

“How to draw a leaf,” was his favorite part, Esten said. “And eating pancakes and dipping it in syrup.”

Other families still have the chance to check out the Maple Sugaring Festival Weekends at Richard M. Nixon County Park, 5922 Nixon Drive. Admission is $2 and includes crafts, tastings and more.

Tours are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Hammer Hollow Sugaring will also have presentations about how sugaring has changed over the years on Sunday at 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.

For more information on the event, visit the park website at