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Syrup and Students

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Lester Park Students at Bagley Nature Center


UMD Students Reach Out to Community Schools: The Maple Sugar Bush Program

Lester Park students enjoy the beauty of Bagley
Students from Lester Park Elementary School visit UMD's sugar bush to learn about the maple syrup process.
The trees are tapped at Bagley, kids watch awaiting syrup
UMD student Shauna Maurer explains how maple trees are tapped during a field trip to Bagley Nature Center.

As the days get longer and the weather gets warmer, students of all ages flock to Bagley. Although some of the kids are barely bigger than the snow piles, they look up into the tall trees, hoping to be the first to find a maple tree. Climbing over, and falling into, snow piles while learning something valuable, is an adventure most kids don't get to have in school.

Each year, a group of UMD students volunteer their time to teach elementary students from Duluth about the process of making maple syrup.

“The Maple Sugar Bush program started in the mid-80s,” Bates said. “It allows kids to have fun and learn a lot. Most youth don’t have the opportunity to get out in the woods at school.”

The Maple Sugar Bush program is bigger than it has been in the past few years, which means that the UMD volunteers who make the program possible, are more important than ever.

“Approximately 20 volunteers have been trained in this year. They are enthusiastic about teaching,” Tim Bates, the community program associate with UMD Rec Sports, said. “I think they learn just as much as the kids do. It allows UMD students to learn to teach, as well as interact with real students.”

Many of the UMD students are Environmental and Outdoor Education majors, but any student at UMD is welcome to join the training. Most importantly, it allows for UMD students to work with kids in the community.

Invitations are sent out to schools and youth groups, offering a two-week window in which interested groups can sign up. This year, the Maple Sugar Bush program brought approximately 500 students to UMD, allowing student volunteers to get outside and teach kids how to tap a maple tree.

“My favorite part is all the little rascals that we get to help,” Charlie Goudreault, a junior outdoor education major, said. “They’re all super excited to learn, and that’s one of my favorite parts, when kids are excited to learn.”

The program targets 3rd through 5th grade students, but they do see kids as young as kindergarten. It is set up in hour-long blocks. Ethan, a kindergartner at Lester Park, said his favorite part was tasting maple syrup. Nadine, a first grader, said hers was stepping in all the giant holes.

The kids meet up with instructors in the behind the Oakland Apartment parking lot, and are then brought into Bagley. Throughout the hour, they are taught to differentiate between maple trees and other trees, such as aspens. The kids are instructed to look for a tree with opposite branching, as well as holes that were used to tap the tree in previous years but have closed off.

Once a tree has been found, which gets difficult as more and more groups tap different trees, the kids each get to help tap the tree and set up the bag or bucket to catch the sap as it comes out.

“The hardest part is trying to plan this in January,” Bates said. “We need a time when the nights are below freezing and days are above, and that usually falls at the end of March, beginning of April.”

Fortunately,with the exception of a little bit of rain, UMD and elementary students alike got to join in on the adventure. With the taste of fresh maple syrup and snow crunching under their feet, it was a learning experience to remember.

Watch students from Lester Park Elementary School experience the joy of the sugar bush at UMD



Written by Brilynn Janckila, March 2014.

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Cheryl Reitan,

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