At maple syrup time, you'll discover how sweet it is


In March, when days are warmer and nights still cool, sap begins to run in the maples. This is the time to tap the trees to collect their golden syrup. Many sites offer an opportunity to see this process, which was taught to settlers by Native Americans.

One big celebration is in Highland County, Va., where the 37th annual Maple Festival takes place over two weekends. The celebration next weekend and March 18-19 includes tours of the area sugar camps, a huge arts and crafts show, a Maple Queen and a Maple Queen Ball, free entertainment and food. For the past six years this event has been included on the Southeast Tourism Society's top 20 events.

Sugar camps in the area welcome visitors. Pick up a map of the sugar tour from the Chamber of Commerce booth inside the Highland County Court House at Monterey or at other locations throughout the county. The tour winds through the Blue Grass Valley along Routes 637 and 640, a scenic area noted for its vistas of mountains and meadows. Stop at Rexrode's Sugar Orchard on Route 637, where you can see old-fashioned production as well as the newer method. Along the same route is Puffenbarger's Sugar Orchard, where the most modern equipment is used, and you can buy maple doughnuts. North of McDowell is Eagle's Sugar Camp, which has been producing syrup for more than 200 years. Another attraction is the Maple Museum, a replica of an old sugar house on U.S. Route 220 south of Monterey. Admission is free.

The festival craft show attracts artists and crafts people from all over the East Coast. The show takes place at a firehouse, in schools and on the courthouse lawn in Monterey and at the Stonewall Ruritan Building in McDowell. Entertainment is scheduled during the afternoons at the courthouse area in Monterey and at the Stonewall Ruritan Building in McDowell. Entertainers include cloggers, musicians, country-western dancers, craft demonstrators and face painters.

Dances are also planned each night from 8 p.m. to midnight at the Ruritan Building in Blue Grass and on both Saturdays at the Stonewall Ruritan Building in McDowell. Several places in the area will be serving pancakes and buckwheat cakes topped with maple syrup, along with country sausage, ham or bacon. Some will also feature Allegheny mountain trout.

All festival activities are free except for food and evening dances. Call (703) 468-2550.

Maryland maple syrup

In Maryland you can see maple syrup production today at the Maple Sugarin' Festival in Carroll County and at Oregon Ridge Nature Center in Cockeysville; next weekend in Garrett County at Herrington Manor State Park and Swallow Falls State Park near Oakland; and over two weekends (next weekend and March 18-19) at Cunningham Falls State Park near Thurmont.

The Maple Sugarin' Festival will be held today from noon to 5 p.m. at the Hashawha Environmental Appreciation Center in Westminster. The festival offers fun for the entire family, including tasting the syrup, related crafts, movies, a petting zoo, food concessions and free hayrides, courtesy of the Maryland Draft Horse and Mule Association. Maple syrup demonstrations are scheduled at 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. The Bear Branch Nature Center, on the property, will have a sale of bluebird houses, a bake sale and a silent auction. All activities are free. The center is at 300 John Owings Road. Call (410) 848-9040.

At Oregon Ridge Nature Center you can follow a naturalist and watch as the tree is tapped and the sap collected, and then see the sap boiled down into syrup at the Sugar House. These demonstrations will be held between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Maple products will be sold in the gift shop. Admission is free. The eighth annual Maple Syrup Pancake Breakfast will be held Saturday and March 12 at Oregon Ridge Lodge from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The cost is $4.50 for adults; $2 for ages 2 to 10. Tickets can be bought at the door. Call (410) 887-1815.

Swallow Falls State Park will present "From Sap to Syrup," which shows the entire sugaring process, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday. The trees will be tapped and sap boiled into syrup the old-fashioned way, and a local maple-sugar farm will sell maple products. Admission is free. The next day, Herrington Manor State Park will hold an "all-you-can-eat" pancake breakfast from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. The cost is $5 for adults; $2.50 for children under 12. Call (301) 334-9180.

Cunningham Falls State Park has been holding maple-syrup demonstrations for 25 years. Two weekends of free demonstrations will take place in the William Houck Area of the park from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The program includes a video explaining the history and process of maple sugar production, storytelling, and maple syrup sampling. A pancake and sausage breakfast will be available each day for a nominal charge, and maple products will be for sale. Call (301) 271-7574.

Needlework show

"A Stitch in Time," the annual Woodlawn Needlework Exhibition, opened yesterday at the plantation in Mount Vernon, Va., and runs daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through March 26.

America's oldest and largest needlework exhibit attracts entries from all over the country. This year, one came from a woman serving time in a New Jersey prison; it won best in show among the contemporary pieces. More than 700 works by needleworkers of all ages will be displayed throughout the mansion.

The exhibition was established as a tribute to Martha Washington's granddaughter Nelly Custis Lewis, who lived at Woodlawn from 1802 to 1839. Lewis was known as an outstanding needleworker. A featured attraction of the show is a treasure hunt to find a piece of Lewis' needlework in each room of the house. Another attraction is the daily demonstration of needlework skills. Luncheon will be served daily from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the Woodlawn Pub.

The plantation is at the intersection of Virginia Route 235S and U.S. 1 in Mount Vernon. Call (703) 780-4000.

Fire sale

The Gordonville Fire Company Auction and Spring Sale in Gordonville, Pa., is said to be the biggest firefighters' auction on the East Coast. It will be held Saturday in the fire hall and in a field across the street. The bidding begins between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., but if you want to look over the items, you can arrive as early as 7 a.m. The auction continues all day or until everything is sold. Admission is free.

Gordonville is just east of Lancaster, Pa., off U.S. Route 30 on Leacock Road. Call (717) 768-3869.

Wildlife art

The 20th annual Wildlife Art and Photography Show, sponsored by the Fairfax County Park Authority, has moved to a new location at the R. E. Lee RECenter in Alexandria, Va. The show will be held Saturday and March 12 from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

More than 60 original works by mid-Atlantic artists will be displayed for sale. Other attractions include live animal presentations, family fun with art and nature activities.

Admission is $1. The center is at 6600 Telegraph Road in Alexandria. Take Washington Beltway Exit 2 and go right on Telegraph Road for 2.5 miles to the park entrance on the left. Call (703) 941-1065.

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