Slice of Life

Maple Day displays tapping at Thornden Park

Shijing Li | Contributing Illustrator

First, they connect the trees by a tubing system called lines. Then, they drill a small hole into each tree where a tap is fitted. Finally, after a few days, they drain the sap through the lines into a 250-gallon holding tank at the bottom of the hill. It’s how Kris Dulmer and Brad Fierke make maple syrup, and it’s a process they’ve been doing for eight years.

The two co-producers at Salt City Syrup first started off slow, only tapping enough maples for their families. Over time, they started making more and more, and today, they have more than 100 maples tapped in Elmwood Park. They celebrated with the Syracuse Department of Parks, Recreation and Youth Program’s Maple Day on March 18.

The Maple Day celebration was suggested by Dulmer and Fierke — who thought teaching the public about how maple syrup is made and processed would be fun. They reached out to City Arborist Steve Harris and the Cornell Cooperate Extension Onondaga Kristina Ferrare, who works as a resource educator, and worked out the details of the event, including the park where the trees would be tapped and the necessary permits.

Last year, Dulmer and Fierke tapped trees in Thornden Park for around 200 guests, showing them the process of making maple syrup. It was such a big hit, the city decided to bring it back again this year. The event featured a pancake breakfast, winter games and activities and, of course, the actual process of the tapping of the trees.

Dulmer and Fierke taught both State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry students and other members of the public how to tap the trees. Some of the SUNY-ESF students had never tapped maples before.

“It’s not a terribly delicate process, but it has to be done correctly,” Dulmer said.

They plan this year was to also show the public the process in which to turn the sap into syrup. Dulmer and Fierke use a reverse Osmosis machine, which removes the water from the sap before boiling it down into syrup. Since the machine removes 95 percent of the water, it’s incredibly energy efficient, Dulmer said. Since Dulmer and Fierke use wood as their energy source to boil down the sap, saving energy is important.

“The reason why is that it reduces the amount of you have to cook the syrup, and also the amount of work you have to put in,” Dulmer said. “It reduces energy costs tremendously.”

The sap has to be turned to syrup fairly quickly as things warm up. If the weather is cold, the sap can sit in the tanks longer. But the warmer it gets, the faster the sap degrades and quickly becomes unusable. On average, Dulmer and Fierke get 100 to 150 gallons of sap from their 100 taps. With a traditional maple tree like the ones they are tapping in Elmwood Park, they need 45 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

Dulmer learned to tap maple trees from growing up in Vermont. He was always around it but didn’t truly utilize the skills fully until he moved to Syracuse and started working with Fierke.

“You just learn a lot over the years here in Syracuse,” Dulmer said.

But Dulmer is still experimenting and trying new things. For this year’s Maple Day, Dulmer and Fierke planned on tapping some Iron Wood trees.

As for Salt City Syrup, Dulmer and Fierke make four kinds of syrup from four different kinds of trees — traditional Sugar Maple syrup, Norway maple syrup, a smoky Black Walnut syrup and a honey Butternut syrup.

“We basically sell out of every year,” Fierke said. “We basically can’t keep up with our demand.”

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