Monday, March 3, 2008

Maple Festivals in the Litchfield Hills

In the scenic Litchfield Hills of Connecticut, the crackling fires and boiling kettles of maple syrup are a tradition, the first happy sign that winter is on the way out. Visitors of all ages are welcome to visit the many sugar shacks on farms and nature centers in this maple-rich region, where fragrant syrup making is in full swing in March. Demonstrations will show the ways it has been done from Native American times to the present.

The newest sugarhouse in the area, Sweet Wind Farm in East Hartland, invites the whole family to their Maple Festival on 8 March from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The day will feature maple syrup and sugar making demonstrations, sugarhouse tours, a narrated slide show, a recipe class and story time for kids. Free coffee and syrup samples will be available for all.

Free Open House Maple Days on most Saturdays through early April also will allow visitors to come in and watch the process, ask questions and enjoy the sweet syrup scents. Though their super-modern facility was built in 2005, the Case family has been making maple syrup for over 30 years in Granby. The modern equipment in the new facility makes for high quality syrup as well as products such as maple sugar and lollipops, all for sale.

Lamothe's Sugar House in Burlington, one of the largest operations in the region with some 4,000 taps, is also offering free tours on their farm every Saturday and Sunday until the end of March. Visitors will see how maple syrup and sugar are made and enjoy samples of syrup, maple farmhouse coffee, and hot apple cider. The Lamothes also raises golden retrievers and lop-eared bunnies and children can see the adorable pups and bunnies.

Another chance to see maple syrup being made during the first three weekends in March is at Warrup’s Farm in Redding, an organic farm operated by the same family since the 1840s. A tour shows how the sap comes out of the trees, how it is taken to the storage tank, and then boiled down in the evaporator. Pure maple syrup and maple sugar can be purchased to take home.

Three ways of syrup making, past to present can be seen at the Great Brook Sugarhouse on Sullivan Farm in New Milford on 17 and 18 March. The Colonial and Civil War eras and the most high-tech modern techniques will be shown.

The Native American way of making maple syrup (pictured at left) will be demonstrated at the Algonkian Village at the Institute for Indian Study in Washington on 15 March, with staff members serving pancakes topped with local maple syrup. There will be games and crafts for the children.

The new Sugar House of the Flanders Nature Center in Woodbury is another opportunity to stand by the roaring wood stove on March weekends and watch the sap cook down into syrup. Demonstrations by staff and volunteers will bring the history, science, and humor of maple syrup production to life. Flanders' maple syrup and other maple products will be available for purchase.

Guided tours at the Sharon Audubon Center all day at the annual Maple Fest on 15 March will include the Center’s working sugarhouse. Samples of the freshly made syrup are handed out to guests. Syrup can be bought at the Center's Nature Store.

For a free brochure listing all Connecticut sugar houses, more information on winter activities, and a free copy of UNWIND, a 112-page color guide to lodging, dining and all the attractions in the Litchfield Hills, contact the Northwest Connecticut Convention and Visitors Bureau, PO Box 968, Litchfield, CT 06759, 860:567-4506.

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