Warmer days, freezing nights. The sap is running — sporadically — just in time for Maine Maple Sunday, following a topsy-turvy stretch of winter weather that’s enabled sap to flow a little earlier than usual, only to be halted at times by late-season chills.

This weekend Maine will celebrate the 34th annual Maine Maple Sunday, held every year on the fourth Sunday of March. From Jackman and Moose River, south through Skowhegan and into Kennebec County, sugarhouses will be open for visitors to enjoy freshly made maple syrup and candy, demonstrations of syrup production, sugarbush tours and a variety of other family activities. Many farms offer games, activities and treats that include maple syrup over ice cream or drizzled onto snow.

Some central Maine producers got an early jump on tapping their trees this year after a prolonged thaw in January and February.

Skowhegan’s Maple Fest, which celebrates Somerset County’s status as the top maple-producing county in the United States, kicks off at 4:30 p.m. Friday with sap collecting at Chez Londorf on Burrill Hill Road, off Bigelow Hill Road, in Skowhegan. The public is invited to join Skowhegan Area High School art teacher Iver Lofving in collecting maple sap at the sugar bush. The Londorf sugarhouse, with its wood-fired evaporator in the woods, was built in 2002 by vocational and technical students at the school.

Lofving, like many other maple producers, said he started tapping his 325 maple tree at the end of February. But the sap flow has slowed and stopped a couple of times since then, when the temperature dipped into the teens and single numbers during the day. Some days in early March the temperatures never rose above zero.

“It’s been running very sporadically and it’s been sort of cold, so we haven’t gotten very much yet, but we have had a couple boils,” Lofving said on Monday from his quaint sugarhouse surrounded by woods and deep snow. “The temperatures have been below freezing and when there’s no liquid water, there’s no sap flowing.”

Sap tends to flow when daytime temperature is above 32 degrees and when nighttime temperature dips back below freezing.

Mike Meagher, at the Maine-iac Maple Farm and specialty store on Mitchell Road in Richmond, said he employs 250 taps. He also started tapping at the end of February and started boiling three or four days after that.

But again, Mother Nature turned off the tap.

“It ran good for awhile at the beginning,” Meagher said. “Then we had about 10 days a week ago when it was below freezing night and day. It was really cold and it didn’t run at all. We didn’t boil for about 10 days.”

Jack Steeves, at Strawberry Hill Farms in Skowhegan, said he runs 15,000 to 16,000 taps, and it was in his home that the first meeting for Maine Maple Sunday took place in 1983. In February that year, eight Maine maple syrup producers gathered in the Steeves living room to designate one day for maple syrup lovers to visit the state’s many sugarhouses, smell the vapor of the evaporators and see how sap is transformed into sweet, golden syrup and maple candy.

The group decided that Maine Maple Sunday, to be celebrated this Sunday, would be the fourth Sunday in March.

Meagher, the Richmond producer, said last year his operation was visited by more than 200 people on Maine Maple Sunday, and he expects the same this Sunday. There will be a tour of the sugarhouse, cups of ice cream will be offered to put maple syrup on; and if the weather is nice, he’ll walk visitors down into the sugarbush where the maple trees grow. He said he uses some tubing, but most of the sap they boil comes the old-fashioned way — in buckets.

Kurt Sawyer, owner of Sawyer’s Maple Farm on the Heald Pond Road in Moose River, some 70 miles north of Skowhegan in Somerset County, said they got a late start and “missed the early run in February,” but he expects to be boiling for visitors on Sunday.

“Yes, the sap is running up here,” Sawyer said Monday. “We expect to be boiling Tuesday and again on Saturday after the cold spell in the middle of the week. It just started running for real this time. The days are warm enough.”

Dan Cobb, at Cobbs Hill Sugarhouse on North Road in Mount Vernon, said he was starting to get worried about the weather this year. Cobbs Hill Sugarhouse, overlooking the scenic Kennebec Highlands, boils sap gathered in buckets over a wood-fired evaporator.

“I was worried we were going to have some tough weather, but it looks like were going to be all right for the weekend.” Cobb said. “We started tapping right after Valentine’s Day. There were a couple early runs and then it shut down for a good bit of March, but it seems to be picking up steam again.”

On tap this weekend will be free ice cream, maple tea, pancakes and maple treats. Parking is available 100 yards from the sugarhouse, a short walk.

Some sugarhouses will hold events on both Saturday and Sunday. For a list and map of participating sugar houses, visit the Maine Maple Producers website.

Weather forecasts in central Maine call for a cloudy or partly sunny sky Saturday and Sunday, with high temperature reaching the lower 40s and upper 30s.

The Skowhegan festival, in its 11th year, leading up to Maine Maple Sunday, continues Saturday with a maple pancake breakfast from 7 to 10 a.m. at Tewskbury Hall, next to the Federated Church on Island Avenue. There will be a 50-50 raffle to benefit downtown revitalization all day at Country Crow and a maple leaf hunt from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. downtown. Games and activities for children and a marshmallow roast over an open fire are scheduled for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday in the municipal parking lot downtown.

A cancer benefit Sugar Dash 5K is set for noon in the parking lot; and a beer, wine and food tasting event is scheduled for 5 to 8 p.m. at the Skowhegan armory on North School Street. Tickets cost $25. The event is organized by the Rotary Club.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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