Shawnee Prairie celebrates Maple Syrup Festival

By Ryan Carpe rcarpe@civitasmedia.com

March 2, 2014

DARKE COUNTY – This Saturday marked the annual Friends of the Parks’ Waffle Breakfast and Maple Syrup Festival, where participants enjoyed a hearty morning meal while learning about the region’s history.

“It’s growing each year,” said Darke County Park Director Roger Van Frank.

The Friends of the Darke County Parks organized the event held at the Shawnee Prairie Preserve and supported it entirely through volunteer efforts.

The event remains one of the group’s leading annual fundraisers, and The Shawnee Nature Center was packed as patrons lined up to donate to the Friends’ mission.

After eating breakfast, attendees took the opportunity to participate in one of several activities planned throughout the morning.

Ongoing Maple syrup tours addressed not only the modern collection and boiling methods of syrup, but guides also told the history of Darke County and how Native Americans began collecting sap in the 18th and 19th centuries.

“It’s just amazing what Mother Nature has provided us. And it’s a taste of what this county is all about,” said Van Frank.

Van Frank even recalled historical records of meetings in the 19th century involving Tecumseh and evangelical envoys where early sugar production was observed locally.

The preserve’s Sugar Shack also opened its doors as part of the event and displayed an authentic maple syrup evaporator. The elaborate boiling and evaporating process is designed to reduce the moisture of the natural sap into a concentrated sugar product.

Visitor’s also had a chance to speak with historical pioneer actors who discussed early life in Darke County.

“You’ll see where the pioneers would gather for three or four weeks of the year where they formed a sugar camp,” said Van Frank. “They boiled down the sap in large kettles, where it was rendered down to sugar, not syrup, because that’s how it was stored.”

And also open were the ever-popular Log House paired with the recently opened Blacksmith Shop, giving visitors a wealth of opportunities to participate in hands-on history.