SKOWHEGAN — The annual four-day Skowhegan Maple Festival got off to a wind-chilly start Thursday at art teacher Iver Lofving’s Chez Lonndorf, a sugarhouse in the woods on Burrill Hill built in 2002 by vocational and technical students at Skowhegan Area High School.

Lofving said the sugarhouse’s name is a mix of French, Swedish and German — all family links — meaning “at maple village”.

The task at hand Thursday was to show the students how to tap a maple tree using old fashion metal taps, metal collecting cans and metal “roofs,” or coverings, to keep the rain and snow out once the sap starts running.

Asked how the maple season was progressing as the state looks to Maine Maple Sunday in three days — was the sap running? — Lofving had one word.

“No,” he said from inside the sap house, which in most years would be steamy from boiling sap into syrup. “It’s too cold. You don’t see any liquid water, do you? If it’s below 32 degrees, there’s no sap running because it’s frozen. Instead of collecting sap today, we’re going to tap trees.”

Students learned how to tap the trees, at which angle to drill the hole into the maple and which trees to tap.

Celebrating Somerset County’s status as the top maple producing county in the United States, Skowhegan’s four-day festival offers activities and events for all ages with a talent show, pancake breakfast, marshmallow roasting and other activities, said Skowhegan Main Street Director Dugan Murphy.

The U.S. Agriculture Department’s Census of Agriculture for 2012, the last year available, said Somerset County produces more syrup and has more maple taps than any other county in the country.

“This year we’ve grouped all our Maple Festival events together in a way to create a little more excitement,” he said. “Friday is kids’ day with lots of activities downtown. Saturday is maple food day and concludes with the annual talent show at the Skowhegan Opera House.”

Murphy said event sponsors have helped with the planning this year, with Hammond Lumber providing the paint that Skowhegan Area High School students used to decorate downtown storefront windows.

Children on Friday can help decorate maple cookies at the Main Street Skowhegan office on Water Street, enjoy a scoop of ice cream at the public library and color maple-sugaring scenes at the Children’s Cottage.

Events also include a Saturday pancake breakfast; maple marshmallows roasted over an open fire; a wine, beer and food tasting showcasing local restaurants and wine and beer crafters; and a talent show.

The festival leads up to the 32nd annual Maine Maple Sunday when sugarhouses around the state open to the public offering free maple syrup samples and demonstrations on how pure Maine maple syrup is made. Many farms offer games, activities, treats and sugarbush tours.

There are close to 100 Maine sugarhouses open to the public Sunday as part of Maine Maple Sunday. The annual event is held every fourth Sunday in the month of March.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

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Twitter: @Doug_Harlow