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Tap that sweet tooth: Vergas, Maplewood both hosting maple syrup events Saturday

Horse-drawn wagon rides will once again be offered during Maplewood State Park's Maple Syrup Demonstration Day on Saturday, April 8, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (Submitted photo)

It's maple mania in the lakes area this week, as both the Vergas community and Maplewood State Park are set to host maple syrup-related events on Saturday, April 8.

Maple Syrup Demonstration Day

The Friends of Maplewood State Park will be showcasing their new Sugar Shack at Maple Syrup Demonstration Day, which takes place inside the park in rural Pelican Rapids from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

"We started making maple syrup in 2010, and we've been offering this day since then, as part of the Vergas Maple Syrup Festival," says Friends of Maplewood President John Nordstrom. "It's kind of an offshoot of that."

But the activities hosted at Maplewood that day have become an event in and of itself, he added.

"We've been expanding it a little bit each year," said Nordstrom, "and with our new Sugar Shack and evaporator, we've added some other things to see and do."

The Sugar Shack has a food grade, CDL wood-fired evaporator, with Intense-O-Fire air injection in the fire box. It is a continuous flow, state-of-the-art system, constructed with stainless steel.

Tours of the Sugar Shack will include demonstrations of how the evaporator is used to make fresh maple syrup, and visitors can satisfy their sweet tooth by trying some of that syrup on top of a scoop of homemade ice cream. There will also be samples of freshly made maple candy to tempt the tastebuds.

"Our old evaporator will be fired up so that you can see how you might make maple syrup at home," Nordstrom said. "We will teach you how to identify the maple tree, what size of tree you should use, and how to tap the trees.

"Last year we had horse-drawn wagon rides, and they were popular, so we will continue that this year too," he added. "We will also be demonstrating how Native Americans used to cook their sap in a log, using hot rocks."

Visitors can also try to find the hidden maple leaves by using a GPS, or take a hike around Cataract Lake or to the top of Hallaway Hill. Over the lunch hour brats and hot dogs will be available, and maple syrup will also be for sale. The entrance to Maplewood State Park is located 7 miles east of Pelican Rapids on State Highway 108, or 15 miles south and west of Vergas. If you have questions, call 218-863-8383 at Maplewood State Park. Remember you will need a state park vehicle pass ($25 a year or $5 daily).

Maple Syrup Festival

The Sugar Shack will also be the featured production operation for the annual Vergas Maple Syrup Festival, which takes place in and around the Vergas community from 8 a.m. to noon.

This year, the festival committee has lined up something new to tempt visitors' taste buds: A Maple Syrup Tasting Contest. Or if you'd prefer, go out and tap a tree or two to make your own and enter the contest yourself. "The contest is open to anyone and everyone," says committee member Cheryl Hanson, noting that amateurs can enter right alongside professional syrup producers. "Just bring in a minimum of a half pint of syrup to the Event Center between 9 and 11 a.m. on the morning of the festival." A panel of judges will taste each sample, then choose a winner.

"We'll also have a portable sap cooking unit on display outside," Hanson said, "and people will be able to try samples of real maple sap, both plain and carbonated." Of course, the festival will also feature past favorites like the Pancake Feed from 8 a.m. to noon (featuring real maple syrup, of course), the Maple Medallion Hunt (details available at the pancake feed), the Saps Running 5K Run/Walk at 9:30 a.m. (register by 9 a.m.; cost is $30 in advance or $50 the day of the event), the Maple Leaf Hunt at 10 a.m. (for kids age 5 and under), and live bluegrass music from the band Gospel Train throughout the morning. There will also be maple shakes and maple candy for sale, and raffles for jars of real maple syrup and gift certificates to local businesses. Speaking of local businesses, many of them will be offering special deals during the festival as well.