Deliver Benefits to the Public

Fourth graders and the art of Maple sugaring

Forest Service instructor teaching group of kids how to tap a maple tree for sap
USDA Forest Service Resource assistant Donald Harris guides fourth-graders along the maple sugaring process at Neighborhood House Nature Center. Photo courtesy of Neighborhood House Nature Center.

WISCONSIN – Making maple syrup is a time-sensitive process. This process is sometimes called Maple sugaring. It involves extracting sap from Maple trees and then boiling it down to get the sweet syrup that many have grown to love. This process can only occur when the temperature is consistently above 32 degrees during the day but below 32 degrees at night.With help of a partnership between USDA Forest Service and Neighborhood House, a busload of enthusiastic fourth-graders from St. Marcus School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, were able to get outside and try their hand at making maple syrup.

This fourth-grade adventure began in the classroom with a visit from USDA Forest Service Resource Assistant Donald Harris. He shared with the students what to expect when visiting Neighborhood House’s 93-acre Nature Center, the process of making maple syrup, his experience visiting a forest, what types of products we get from forests, and what wildlife they may see.

“Seeing kids who haven’t been exposed to nature, getting excited about being in the woods made me happy and proud of the work that I’ve been doing here with the USDA Forest Service Urban Connections and partner Neighborhood House,” said USDA Forest Service Resource Assistant Donald Harris.

Harris and Neighborhood House staff welcomed the students to the Nature Center and quickly divided them into small groups, so they could participate in each stage of the maple sugaring– tapping the trees, collecting sap in buckets, collecting firewood and boiling the sap. Students and chaperones were surprised to learn that the 120 gallons of sap collected this season boiled down to only three gallons of syrup.

As students hiked to various stations, Donald shared his passion for nature by pointing out wildlife and their habitats and educating them about different bird calls. All senses were tapped during this adventure – topping off the day with a scoop of ice with fresh maple syrup. For participating in the maple sugaring, each fourth grader and their family received an Every Kid in a Park pass that doesn’t expire until their next school year begins– so they can continue to enjoy the nation’s public lands, waters, and shores all summer long.

This is Harris’ second stint with the USDA Forest Service Urban Connections Program in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He began working with the Forest Service as a conservation education summer intern in 2017, and then attended University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point to study wildlife biology. Recently, Harris completed the six-month Resource Assistant program and will continue his conservation education work with Neighborhood House. He has plans to return to school in the fall.

three little girls carrying firewood and smiling
St. Marcus School fourth-graders carry firewood to help with the boiling stage of the maple sugaring process. Photo courtesy of Neighborhood House Nature Center.
Forest Service employee point to somewhere off-camera, surrounded by kids and a few family members
Donald Harris with fourth-graders pointing out various wildlife along maple sugaring process. Photo courtesy of Neighborhood House Nature Center.
kids and family posing for a picture together
St. Marcus School fourth-graders and families are excited to receive and use their Every Kid Outdoors pass. Photo courtesy of Neighborhood House Nature Center.