While Ohioans await the arrival of spring, maple syrup makers are busy tapping trees and preparing for the 13th Annual Maple Madness Driving Tour, a drive-it-yourself tour on March 9,10,16 and 17 featuring 42 producers in 18 counties in Ohio.
"It's a statewide celebration of Ohio's maple heritage industry," said Terese Volkmann, the tour's coordinator. "You really get to step back and be with nature and experience a food product that is being created."
Volkmann said maple syrup is only made in eastern Canada and 12 states that surround the Great Lakes. To make maple syrup production possible, temperatures must be above freezing during the day and drop below freezing at night.
"That roller coaster weather that we have in this area really makes the sap run in the tree so the syrup can be made," Volkmann said. "That's the key."
Ohio manufactures about 100,000 gallons of maple syrup from about 900 producers each year. In 2012, the state was ranked third on the country's list of top maple syrup producers. It hasn't ranked first since 1840.
At least 12 producers are in Portage County, three of which will be participating in the tour: Creekside Sugar Bush in Rootstown, Apple's Maple Products in Garrettsville and Cash Farms Pure Maple Syrup in Atwater. Visitors of Creekside before 5 p.m. and Cash Farms before 5 p.m. will have the opportunity to indulge in a pancake breakfast with maple syrup and sausages for $3.
Apple's Maple Products, which runs about 2,500 taps and produces about 750 gallons of maple syrup, began operations in 1986 and has been a stop on the tour since 2006.
"It's a great way for people to see how many sugar operations are in Ohio and how each on is unique," said owner Mark Apple.
Apple's stop will focus on the area's history of maple production that includes Garrettsville's participation in the creation of Life Saver candies, which started out as a sweet maple treat.
Creekside, a second-year participant in the tour, began operations in 2010 and spent summer 2012 constructing a new sugar house. Owner Chance Ayers said he will provide maple syrup-making demonstrations at the sugar house, tours through the woods, a small craft show and free samples of maple infused goodies.
At Cash Farms, free wagon rides will be available at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m.
"We try to take you through the whole production from identifying trees to how we get finished maple syrup," said owner Jason Cash, whose family has owned the farm for 70 years but only recently began making syrup. "I tapped five trees my first year and boiled syrup in a pot over a camp stove. Today, we have a building dedicated to it and all the equipment that comes with being a real maple syrup producer."
Cash said he began participating in the tour after he realized that some of his neighbors and friends didn't know he made maple syrup and had never tried it."I think that's a shame," he said. "We want to get more people to become familiar with how good it is and how good it is for you."
Maple syrup is one of the only natural sweeteners that has nutrients such as iron and potassium in the finished product, Cash said.
Syrup making isn't a huge money maker, but that's not why the owners do it.
"It's really excited to talk to these people who make it and love doing it," Volkmann said. "There's this magic that takes place in the woods. Why it happens and how it all happens is in nature's hands."
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Creekside Sugar Bush
3567 Industry Road, RootstownHours open: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Apple's Maple Products
12008 S.R. 88, Garrettsville
Hours open: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
7057 Virginia Road
Hours Open: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For detailed directions and information to more maple syrup producers participating in the tour, visit ohiomaple.org/maple-madness.