Michigan’s oldest sweetener comes not from a cane, but from a tree.

Jessica Boullion
A sugar hut on the grounds of the Cranbrook Institute of Science. (A.J. HOGG/Daily)
Jessica Boullion
The evaporator in a sugar hut at Cranbrook, which turns maple sap into maple syrup. (A.J. HOGG/Daily)
Jessica Boullion
Austin Arquette, a Cranbrook visitor, drives a spile into a tree. (A.J. HOGG/Daily)

In winter a small hole is drilled in a sugar maple tree or one of its relatives – a silver, black, or red maple – and as the frigid days warm up, sap flows out. From this raw material, producers are able to make maple syrup and sugar.

“It’s definitely a spring signifier,” said Michelle Arquette-Palermo, program coordinator in the education department of the Cranbrook Institute of Science.

Cranbrook is teaming up with Whisper in the Woods, a nature journal based in Traverse City, for the Maple Sugar Festival. The festival will be held March 11 and 12 at Cranbrook’s 200-acre Bloomfield Hills campus. Trees have been tapped for the festival since February, and their sugar hut will be fired up and making maple syrup on site. There will also be activities pertaining to the outdoors – including bird watching, winter survival skills and geocaching, a hide-and-seek game that uses Global Positioning System technology. Cranbrook has hosted the maple sugar festival for the past 32 years.

“It’s a nice, natural fit for our surroundings,” Arquette-Palermo said.

The University will also hold an event for families Saturday, March 11, at the Dearborn campus’s natural areas.

“It ties in with the forest, with the change of seasons, with history, with social studies,” said Rick Simek, program supervisor for the Environmental Interpretive Center of the Natural Areas at the Dearborn campus. “It’s also about living in Michigan.”

Simek coordinates sap collection and syrup making, which continues until March 16.

“We’re not set up for commercial production,” Simek said, “But we find ways to enjoy it.”

Volunteers can attend an end-of-season breakfast which includes syrup they helped produce. Simek hosted a public tree-tapping Feb. 11, when they put in between 55 and 60 taps. Cranbrook tapped a similar number of trees.

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