Sweeten your weekend with Chippewa Nature Center’s Maple Syrup Day

Here’s a way to sweeten the weekend. The annual Chippewa Nature Center Maple Syrup Day is on Saturday, March 16 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Kicking off the event is a pancake breakfast from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Maple Syrup Day is free for Chippewa Nature Center members and kids under 18, and $5 for non-member adults. March is the month where the woods and sugarhouse are on display at the Center, and a great time to visit the center, says Michelle Fournier, school and public program director. 

Fournier helps facilitate staff for field trips, and host public programs at the nature center throughout the calendar year. She looks forward, as do many families, for the annual maple syrup day, which has happened since 1976. 

“The Nature Center’s mission is to connect all people to nature, so maple syrup season is a fun time because it’s the first thing in Spring. It happens the third Saturday of every March,” Fournier says. “It all pertains to maple syrup, and we have a lot of crafts, activities, demonstrations, tours into the sugarhouse and sugarbush about how maple syrup is made. There are a couple tasting options with maple syrup taffy and maple cotton candy, too.”

Chippewa Nature Center SugarhouseEvery year, many families and visitors of all ages visit the nature center for an experience that heightens the senses. Typically, Fournier says the event brings out around 1,000 people. Folks can see the sap in the buckets, and smell the sap being cooked into maple syrup in the Sugarhouse. 

“There are tours into the sugarbush, the forested area where most of our sugar maples are,” Fournier says. “We do a scavenger hunt with the buckets on the trees. We hide different things under the buckets, and people can find pictures and words. When they fill it all out, they’ll turn in their card and get entered into a prize drawing for maple syrup that’s made here at the nature center.
Tapping a maple tree
Although Canada is the number one producer of maple syrup in the world, Michigan has the most maple trees. Many nature centers across the state regularly host maple syrup festivals and themed events. In addition to large facilities and operations in the state, there’s also a rising trend in maple syrup hobbyists, says Fournier. 

“There’s also a connection to a human element because indigenous people were the first ones to discover maple syrup,” Fournier says. “This has been a process that has been happening in this area for hundreds of years, so it’s tied to our history too, which is fun.”

The Sugarhouse is typically open for visitors from 1 to 4 p.m. on select Saturdays and Sundays, aside from Easter. Staff and an interpreter provide demos and education on the maple syrup process. 

Fournier enjoys seeing school groups and visitors try real maple syrup for the first time, when they’re used to the corn syrup counterpart popular in many grocery stores. 

Sap collection at the CNC
“We don’t have enough maple syrup in the world to feed everyone, so the corn syrup version does have its place,” Fournier says. “Although, it’s a really cool connection to go from tapping the tree, seeing the sap come out of the tree, collecting the buckets, seeing them cooked down and made into maple syrup. Once you see the whole process, you start to understand the sticker shock at how expensive maple syrup is in the grocery store.”

The pancake breakfast is a separate ticketed event, which is $9 for ages 13 and up, $6 for ages 3-12, and free for children under 3. Chippewa Nature Center members receive a 20% discount on breakfast. Seating is limited, and tickets are available in advance. 

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Sarah Spohn is a Lansing native, but every day finds a new interesting person, place, or thing in towns all over Michigan, leaving her truly smitten with the mitten. She received her degrees in journalism and professional communications and provides coverage for various publications locally, regionally, and nationally — writing stories on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, community, and anything Michigan-made. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at sarahspohn.news@gmail.com.