TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Vigo County Parks & Recreation have recently announced that tree-tapping season has started for the year at Prairie Creek Park.
Once tapping around 2,000 maple trees, the sugar camp in Prairie Creek Park now works with about 200 maples of various kinds and mostly focuses its syrup production efforts for educational purposes and local events.
“It’s easier to manage the lower number of trees and we’re really focusing on the educational side. It used to actually cost quite a bit of money to be able to have all those trees and so we’ve brought it down to a more sustainable level and then just a level that we can justify for education,” explained Sean Sluyter, Natural Resource Programmer for Vigo County Parks & Recreation Department.
Despite a temporary setback of spoiled syrup due to sudden weather changes, Prairie Creek Park is still working towards making changes and better serving the community through education. As this year is the first year that the pancake breakfast will be held at Prairie Creek Park instead of Fowler Park to better showcase the educational aspect of syrup production, the event has since been sold out.
As a result of the spoiled syrup, the lines and tanks have to be flushed out and cleaned so the process can start over.
“So when we’re doing syrup, we want it to be freezing temperatures at night or lower, and then warm up during the day for the trees to release the sap. Then once it’s actually out of the tree when it’s too warm, the syrup goes bad usually at plus 45-50 degrees,” Sluyter said.
With such a long and local history, the sugar camp at Prairie Creek Park has developed a routine that benefits the community but is not unfamiliar with challenges. Along with unpredictable weather, Sluyter mentioned some minor issues with wildlife chewing through the lines to get to the syrup.
“It’s all food-grade plastic. So it doesn’t break down the way a lot of other plastics do. It doesn’t release any toxins or anything in the environment. So it just gets pulled down and we open it up where you can hike. You’ll sometimes notice that it’ll drop from 25 PSI down to like 13 because the squirrels eating the line or a deer is eating the line to get to the sap,” Sluyter said.
Producing at most 536 gallons of syrup in 1978, and 40 gallons in 2022, the sugar camp has been providing the community with locally processed and bottled maple syrup since the park opened after being added to the Vigo County Parks System in 1972.
For those interested in learning more about Prarie Creek Park or the sugar camp, visit the Prairie Creek Park webpage on the Vigo County Parks and Recreation website.