WILLIAMSTOWN -- Drew Jones might be the only person in Berkshire County hoping for a slow, long thaw this spring.
Jones, the manager of Hopkins Memorial Forest, says the key to good maple sugaring season is a long, cool spring. With a team of student caretakers, Jones oversees and taps more than 100 maple trees every spring in the forest.
On Saturday, Jones and his crew celebrated its annual MapleFest, greeting the public with maple syrup-making demonstrations, tree-tapping instructions and free pancakes.
"The idea is just to show people about maple sugars," Jones said, adding that the event offers locals an opportunity to get out of their homes. "People tend to have cabin fever this time year."
Saturday's cloudy skies and mid-40s temperature may have appeared gloomy to some, but Jones said it was "beautiful, typical sugaring" weather. The long cold has kept much of the trees' sap frozen inside, but the weather is starting to warm.
"It's been a slow start to the season," Jones said. But as long as the trees don't bud -- which chemically alters the sap inside -- there's still plenty of time to draw maple sugars from within.
The sugaring at Hopkins Memorial Forest, which is owned and maintained by Williams College, is a traditional, bucket collection operation. Though the staff was short on sap because of the still-frigid end of winter, visitors were still welcomed into the sugaring house to see how sap would be evaporated down into syrup.
Tom Merrill tended to the sugar house's wood-fired evaporator, which was still mostly frozen. In warmer weather, the sugar house can handle 25 gallons of sap per hour.
"It would be steaming," Merrill said. "You wouldn't be able to see me across [from it]."
The evaporation process distills down maple sap into a tiny percentage of what it was in the tree.
Jones estimates that the Hopkins Memorial Forest -- which has a "sugarbush," or cluster of maple trees, near its entrance and dozens of trees along Northwest Hill Road -- produces about 1,500 to 2,000 gallons of sap yearly. By the time the sugaring process is complete, Jones and his crew are typically left with about 40 gallons of maple syrup, he said -- just about 2.5 percent of a trees' sap is actual sugar content.
But those numbers don't discourage the team of student caretakers that help throughout the entire process.
"I'm a city kid," said Benjamin Nathan. "I can't believe I get paid to do this."
Nathan demonstrated to small crowds of kids and adults how to tap a tree for sap, attach the collection bucket, and wait for the liquid gold. It can be hard work, but it makes for a good study break, Nathan said.
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