Sap may be slow, but Vergas' Maple Syrup Festival set for Saturday
Though the official first day of spring is now behind us, snow is still thick on the ground in most areas of Becker County — and the sap isn't yet flowing freely from local maple trees, which means the Vergas community contest to guess the date when that would happen is still up in the air, as of Friday.
"The bucket hasn't overflowed yet," says Maple Syrup Festival committee member Sherri Hanson. "It's only gotten about a quarter full."
Hanson is referring to the bucket that was placed beside Vergas' "official maple tree," directly beneath the tap that was installed by Vergas Mayor Dean Haarstick and Dennis Pausch at a Feb. 15 tree tapping ceremony.
The tree tapping marked the start of Vergas' inaugural "When Will the Bucket Overflow?" guessing game, a prelude to the community's annual Maple Syrup Festival on April 7.
"There were only about five people who had April guesses," Hanson said, noting that most guessed it would happen much earlier. "We're anxiously waiting for that bucket to overflow, because that means it's officially maple syrup season."
Some area producers' taps are already harvesting plenty of sap to begin making maple syrup, Hanson added, while others are waiting just as anxiously as the contest promoters.
"We're in the northernmost area of the country for maple tapping," Hanson said, which is why it's so unpredictable.
Despite this, however, the Vergas area has a healthy population of maple syrup producers, including both those who do it strictly as a hobby and those who market their syrups commercially. This fact was illustrated by the plethora of entries in the festival's first-ever maple syrup tasting contest, which took place last April.
"We had 35 entries," Hanson said. "That's pretty good for a first-time event."
Spirit Lake resident David Trickle took home the trophy, as the panel of judges gave his syrup 28 out of a possible 30 points.
He will have the opportunity to defend his title this coming Saturday, as the syrup tasting contest once again gets underway at 8 a.m. inside the Vergas Event Center.
"Anyone can enter," Hanson said — the only restriction being that the syrup has to be produced locally, by the person entering the contest. "Just bring a sample into the Event Center that morning."
Each sample has to be at least half a pint, Hanson said, so it can be poured out and distributed to the panel of four judges for tasting. Entries are judged for both taste and clarity of the syrup. Entries must also be submitted for judging before the 10 a.m. contest deadline.
The winner will be just the second person to claim the customized first-place trophy, which was created last year by Patrick Shannon of Forest Edge Gallery, just for this contest. He or she will also receive a medal and a gift certificate for Spanky's Stone Hearth, Hanson added.
Besides the excitement generated by these relatively new events, Hanson said, the Maple Syrup Fest will also include the return of popular favorites like the Pancake & Sausage Feed, the Saps Running 5K Run/Walk, and the Maple Leaf Medallion Hunt — though even these will have a few new twists, she added.
For instance, the pancake feed, which runs from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Event Center, will not only include all the pancakes you can eat, topped by butter and real, locally-produced maple syrup, but also sausages made by Ketter's Meat Market in nearby Frazee. There will also be plenty of juice, coffee, and opportunities to taste some unique products like maple syrup milkshakes and carbonated maple sap. Bluegrass band Gospel Train has been invited back to provide live music throughout the morning as well.
In addition to all this, each ticket purchased for the pancake feed — $10 for adults and $5 for kids under age 12 — will entitle the purchaser to $2 off the daily parking permit fee at nearby Maplewood State Park, which will be hosting maple syrup making demonstrations throughout the day, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (see below for details).
The Saps Running 5K will also feature a new twist this year, Hanson said — a "Zero K" category, where people can come in, register for the event, collect their t-shirt, and leave, without doing any running at all. "That's my kind of race," she joked.
Pre-registration for the 5K race is $30; day-of registration, which takes place from 8 to 9 a.m., is $40 per person. The Zero K registration fee is $25. Pre-registration can be done online at www.cityofvergas.com. The race, which begins and ends in front of Billy's Bar, has a 9:30 a.m. start time.
For those who prefer to get their exercise by questing for a prize, there's the Maple Leaf Medallion Hunt. The first clue for the hunt will be posted at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, with additional clues to be posted hourly until the copper medallion is found.
A similar scavenger-hunt type event for kids age 6 and under, featuring multiple wooden maple leaves distributed throughout the city park behind the Event Center, gets underway at 10 a.m.
Besides the maple leaves, there will be additional prizes for the winners of both events, Hanson said.
Local businesses will also be offering specials throughout the day, she added, and many of them will have maple syrup available for sale as well.
"There will be samples inside the Event Center, but we won't be selling maple syrup there," Hanson said. "We would like for people to visit our community businesses, so we will be stocking up the stores (with syrup)."
Day-of-festival specials will also be offered by many of the businesses, she added — a coupon book detailing where and what type of offers are available will be distributed to each ticket holder at the pancake feed.
As if all that weren't enough, there will be festivities going on concurrently at Maplewood State Park, Hanson added.
Maple Syrup Demonstration Day
In conjunction with Vergas' Maple Syrup Festival, the Friends of Maplewood State Park will be hosting a Maple Syrup Demonstration Day at the park from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"On Saturday, April 7, Maplewood State Park will be busy with lots of activity," said Friends of Maplewood President John Nordstrom. "Our volunteers will be there to tell you the story of how maple syrup is made, from the tree to the table."
Those volunteers will also be offering up some little-known facts: For instance, Nordstrom said, how many people know that if you plant a sugar maple tree today, you won't be able to tap it until it is about 40 years old?
"Visit the new Sugar Shack and learn how the evaporator works," he added. "There will be stories about how the Native Americans made maple sugar, how the early settlers made maple syrup, and how you can do it at home. Demonstrations will take place throughout the day.
"For your enjoyment there will also be horse drawn wagon rides, and we will treat you to a taste of maple syrup on top of ice cream," he continued. "If you have more time you can 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 for sale, as well as maple syrup."
Though admission to the festival is free, all Maplewood State Park visitors will be required to have a Minnesota State Parks vehicle parking permit, which costs $7 per day or $35 per year, and is available at the park office. (Don't forget to use the $2 discount coupon that you received with your Vergas pancake feed ticket.)
The Maplewood State Park entrance is located seven miles east of Pelican Rapids on State Hwy. 108. For more information you can check out the website, www.friendsofmaplewood.org, or like the Friends of Maplewood page on Facebook. If you have questions, call the Maplewood State Park office at 218-863-8383.
By Vicki Gerdes
Source, images, credits & more information: DLOnline