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Sweeten up your March madness

As winter drags on, cabin fever sets in. It’s easy to burrow further into the couch and hit “next” on your Netflix queue, but that certainly won’t beat the winter blues and, let’s be honest, there aren’t enough episodes of even “Friends” to last a Wisconsin winter. Lucky for Northeastern Wisconsin, many nature preserves in the area offer a fun way to get out of the house and celebrate a rapidly-approaching spring with their maple syrup festivities.

There are several nature preserves in the area that host annual maple syrup festivals, some with tours and opportunities to join in on the tapping of maple trees, and all with a delicious pancake breakfast.

1000 Islands Environmental Center

1000 Islands Environmental Center

1000 Islands Environmental Center, Kaukauna: March 21

1000 Islands and Kaukauna Kiwanis host the Kiwanis Pancake and Porkie Breakfast on March 21 at the preserve in Kaukauna. The breakfast will run from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m., and visitors can participate in a hike to learn about the process of making maple syrup after the breakfast.

Naturalist Debbie Nowak says that this is the center’s fourth year of doing the breakfast with the Kaukauna Kiwanis club. “It’s a nice partnership,” she says, noting that the Kiwanis club takes care of the breakfast part of it, and the nature center takes charge of the public tour of the center’s sugar bush.

The hike, organized by the center, utilizes students from Fox Valley Technical College to help out at different stations. Participants will learn about the history behind maple syrup production, as well as how to identify maples and which trees are old enough for tapping. Nowak says that there is a hands-on station, where participants will get to practice tapping on demonstration trees. Finally, the tour finishes up in the Sugar Shack, where participants can see the process of evaporating the sap to make syrup. The informational hike itself is free and open to the public.

Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve

Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve

Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve, Appleton: March 28

On March 28, the Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve has a pancake breakfast starting at 9 a.m., and after the breakfast there are tours of the preserve’s sugar bush running from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Participants in the Bubolz Preserve’s tours have the opportunity to see how the preserve makes its maple syrup. “Here at the preserve we do it a little more old fashioned way,” says Courtney Osenroth, program coordinator and naturalist at the preserve. She describes the process, saying that there is a “brace and bit drill that goes into the tree, and then we pound the spile in.” The spile goes in two or three inches into the tree until it reaches the sapwood layer of the maple tree. Buckets are then put underneath to collect the sap. Osenroth continued, “Some maples can have up to four buckets hanging off them.” However, Osenroth notes that it takes 40 gallons of sap for 1 gallon of syrup. “We get 7 or 8, sometimes 9 (gallons) in a given year. This year we’re looking to expand that,” she says.

The Bubolz Preserve’s Pancake and Porkie Breakfast is in its 34th year, and their event can draw between 500 to 600 people. Osenroth notes that the breakfast is “quite important for us as a nature preserve; it is used as a fundraiser which is used to make our money to keep our building open and running.”

Ledge View Nature Center

Ledge View Nature Center

Ledge View Nature Center, Chilton: March 29

The Ledge View Nature Center also offers a Maple Syrup Sunday, on March 29, and this event offers the exciting opportunity to participate in actual tapping of the maple trees. The breakfast runs from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m., and tours will run 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.

The Ledge View Nature Center’s tours are very interactive. “We are tapping trees every time you go out on a tour and it’s people doing it,” emphasizes Jane Mingari, assistant naturalist at the Ledge View Nature Center. The Ledge View Nature Center also prefers to tap the old-fashioned way, Mingari says, using a bitted brace rather than a pipe system. The tours themselves also offer the first glimpses of a Wisconsin spring. “It’s the time of year we see the first butterflies and hear the first migrating birds,” Mingari says. Competitions also will be held to see who spots the first chipmunk coming out of hibernation.

Mingari also says that their Maple Syrup Sunday features volunteer reenactors that demonstrate how pioneers made syrup. The reenactors typically perform crafts for the audiences, and sometimes the show includes a blacksmith. Mingari said that one year she watched a volunteer make wooden spoons using fire.

All of these maple syrup festivities are great family activities, as well as great ways to get out of the house and enjoy a Wisconsin tradition. For more information on pricing and reservations, contact each location.

For more information visit:

1000 Islands Environmental Center: 766-473, www.1000islandsenvironmentalcenter.org

Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve: 731-6041, www.bubolzpreserve.huterra.com

Ledge View Nature Center: 849-7094, www.ledgeviewnaturecenter.org

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