CHINA — Without the large crowds associated with a traditional Maine Maple Sunday, Doug Tibbetts relished an opportunity to provide a more comprehensive tour of Raider’s Sugarhouse to visitors this weekend.

Doug and his wife, Gail, opened their Raider’s Sugarhouse to the public as part of the first Maine Maple Producers Weekend, which was started when Maine Maple Sunday was canceled for this year.

The traditional fourth-Sunday-in-March event did not happen this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, so the Maine Maple Producers Association created  the Maine Maple Producers Weekend.

“I like it actually better than Maine Maple Sunday because it wasn’t quite as busy, so I get to spend more time with the people here,” Doug Tibbetts said. “I enjoy just showing people what I do, and I love seeing people’s faces. They come in thinking it’s boring, but there’s a lot to it.”

Many local sugarhouses utilized the weekend to recoup financial losses, but the owners at Raider’s said the educational aspect of the weekend was just as important.

Doug and Gail Tibbetts were helped out by family friends Bob and Nancy Hall, who live down the road.

Gail Tibbetts, 60, and Nancy Hall, 58, sold maple syrup, sugar and other goodies in the front of the property, while Doug Tibbetts, 58, and Bob Hall, 57, gave tours of the sugarhouse, maple taps and more out back.

Bob Hall described himself as Doug Tibbetts’ “junior tour guide.”

“It’s really interesting,” Hall said. “Everyone just thinks you take it out of the tree and boil sap, but there’s so more much than that.”

Nancy Hall said it is important to learn “where it comes from and how you make it.”

Janet Nadeau, 65, of Winslow was the first visitor Sunday morning. Nadeau said she remembered bringing her daughter, Shanna, now 37, to Maine Maple Sunday every year, at a variety of sugarhouses.

For the past 25 years, Nadeau has attended Maine Maple Sundays on and off with her daughter or as a host mother to foreign-exchange students, to give them a “complete Maine experience.”

Marcia Wranosky of China passes stacked wood Sunday during Maine Maple Producers Weekend at Raider’s Sugarhouse in China. Guests toured the sugarhouse and new sugar grove during the two-day event. Buy this Photo

Nadeau, who works as a behavioral health professional at Western Maine Behavioral Health, said she went to Raider’s for the first time Sunday and came away impressed.

“I thoroughly enjoyed it,” Nadeau said, echoing Doug Tibbetts’ idea of how the fall weekend tours were more personal. “I work all week, and on the weekends I like to get out and enjoy nature.”

Doug and Gail Tibbetts have about 1,200 taps across 50 acres. Some of the taps are on their land, or they pay a stipend for taps on other people’s land.

The couple say their maple escapades began when their sons were young. The family moved to China from Portland in 2003, and began tapping into their property’s maple trees the following year. Their sons Cameron and Glen are now 25 and 22, respectively.

“We just realized we had a lot of trees and started tapping,” Gail Tibbetts said. “It was all a family thing, and eventually (Cameron and Glen) moved on and we decided to be a business.”

The boys still come back to help out during open houses, including Maine Maple Sunday or Maine Maple Producers Weekend.

The family had 40 visitors Saturday and expected a similar turnout Sunday. Raider’s welcomed about 400 visitors to its previous five Maine Maple Sundays, but the Tibbetts family was OK with a smaller event this year.

“It’s more about getting people to come on over,” Gail Tibbetts said.

Raider’s Sugarhouse in China. Greg Levinsky/Morning Sentinel

The sugarhouse is Doug and Gail Tibbetts’ “retirement business adventure,” according to Gail. Doug still works full time in sales at Oakhurst Dairy, and Gail recently retired from Hannaford. Raider’s is named after Raider, the family’s husky-yellow Labrador retriever mix, which died three years ago.

The Tibbetts said their business is expanding, now wholesaling to various stores. They have also begun printing their own bottle labels, moving away from generic containers. They also plan to add another sugar grove, and hope to increase to as many as 1,500 taps.

“We just decided that it was something we wanted to do on a full-time, permanent basis,” Gail Tibbetts said. “We’re hoping to continue with the fall, and that the Maine Maple Producers Association does, as well.”

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