SKOWHEGAN — The 34th annual Maine Maple Sunday dawned crisp and clear.

And cold.

Temperatures started off in the teens early Sunday morning and had only reached 32 degrees by 11 a.m., still too chilly for the sap to flow. But it warmed up fast, so that by early afternoon it was 40 degrees outside — the perfect temperature for making maple syrup.

Maple syrup season 2017 continued Sunday just as it had started in February for most: sluggish. But there was sap Sunday from sporadic gatherings when temperatures warmed during the day, and there was syrup and ice cream and maple treats, including candy, and at Strawberry Hill Farm in Skowhegan, maple taffy.

Jack Steeves, of Strawberry Hill, in whose living room with a handful of other producers the concept of Maine Maple Sunday was born in 1983, said the season has been unpredictable.

“The sap’s not running today — not yet,” Steeves, 85, said from the retail table. “It should later on, some. It’s too cold. It’s got to be at least 33 degrees.”

Steeves said that the snow pack has compounded the problem, as drifts and deep snow insulate the maple trees, making it harder for the sap to rise. He said the snow keeps the trees frozen at the bottom, not allowing the sun to warm the trunk.

“The sap is not running well for that reason,” he said. “We’re getting some, but not a lot. It’s a physiological thing.”

Steeves said his family started tapping in early January. He said they have 14,000 taps scattered across the land off Rowe Road, where traffic on Sunday was down to a single lane with cars and trucks parked all along the roadside. He said the yard would be full of visitors by 2 p.m. Last year the farm had 600 visitors on Maine Maple Sunday.

Steeves later conducted tours of the sap house and the “reverse osmosis evaporation plant,” where streams of people watched how the maple syrup is made.

From Jackman and Moose River, south through Skowhegan and into Kennebec County and beyond, sugarhouses were open for visitors Sunday 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.

According to the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, the Maine maple sugar industry, the third largest in the country:

• produced 545,000 gallons of maple syrup worth $17.4 million last year;

• contributed, along with multiplier effects, an estimated $48.7 million in output and $25.1 million in labor income to the state economy;

• and created 805 full- and part-time jobs.

Somerset County, with around 1.4 million taps is the largest maple producing county in the country.

Sue and John Michaud, of Clinton, carrying a 16-ounce glass bottle of maple syrup and smaller bottles for gifts, said this was their first Maine Maple Sunday.

“We’ve been together 37 years and this is our first time,” John Michaud said. “It’s something different, it’s something to do, and it’s a nice day. We had some of the syrup on ice cream and it’s very good. It’s awesome. It was very tasty.”

Families across Maine on Sunday navigated the mud and snow banks to get to the goodies, all offered free of charge.

Waterville police Detective David Caron was on hand with his wife, Lindsey, and their two small children, standing in line for some ice cream drizzled with Steeves’ maple syrup.

“It’s the best part of Maine Maple Sunday,” Caron told the kids, who already were quietly engaged in the treat. “We come here because that’s where the family comes — Lindsey’s family comes here and we all come here.”

Families basked in the relative warmth of the afternoon, eating their treats on a picnic table and while walking around the sugarhouse grounds.

Dave Hallee, of Waterville, with his wife Kim, was spotted cleaning off his hands in a high snow bank.

“I got a little maple syrup from the serving of ice cream and just wanted to get the stick off,” Hallee said. “We’ve been coming here every year for decades because we enjoy the familiarity of it, and we very much enjoy the quality of their syrup. They’re a great family.”

Spencer Steeves, 18, a third generation maple syrup maker, was busy with a friend around noon firing up a propane heater to boil down the finished maple syrup even further to be spread over snow to make maple taffy.

“It was actually used a couple days ago for candy so it’s pretty thick,” he said of the about-to-be bubbling brew. “We’re going to bring it up to 245 degrees. That way it’s going to be thick so we can pour it on the snow and make maple taffy. People like it. I like it a lot.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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