Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is part of the National Park System. Being from the Chicago area, I’ve been visiting the Indiana Dunes since I was a kid. This year, we took the kids to Chellburg Farm (part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore) for Maple Sugar Time, where we learned first-hand how maple sap is harvested and turned into maple syrup.
We started with a ranger-led hike down a trail from the visitor’s center. The ranger made sure we all understood how trees got their nourishment. Early spring is maple sugar time because the trees have sucked all the nourishment from the ground and haven’t used it yet to make leaves or start growing in the new season.
Continuing on the trail, we saw a demonstration of how Native Americans made maple sugar from the sap of the maple tree. They would tap the tree with a wooden spigot and collect the sap in a bark basket. The sap would be transferred to a rock with a bowl-shape, into which a fiery rock would be submerged to boil off the water, leaving the syrupy sap behind. This was further processed into dry sugar for easy transport.
Further down the trail we saw how early settlers boiled the sap down to syrup in a succession of hanging cauldrons.
We were then given an opportunity to “tap” a tree just to see if we could do it.
We then visited the boilery that the Chellburgs used to process the sap into maple syrup. They used a succession of metal pans.
In the Chellburg farmhouse, we were given a taste test to see if we could tell the difference between real maple syrup and the fake stuff from the grocery store. We could definitely taste the difference!
After learning all about the process of making maple syrup, the children earned their Junior Ranger badges.
And the family took a hike to enjoy the natural beauty and history of the Indiana Dunes.