Metro area parks are gearing up for the annual ritual of tapping maple trees to make syrup, although extreme cold has put things a few weeks behind schedule this year.

"I've been here 20 years, and I don't think we've ever tapped this late," says Rick Simek, program supervisor at the University of Michigan-Dearborn's Environmental Interpretive Center. "That's because of the deep cold we've had that has lasted so long, completely through February and into early March like this."

The Environmental Interpretive Center will host its annual maple syrup tour on March 28, nearly a month later than usual. The center is just one of many area parks to feature programs offering visitors an opportunity to learn about the classic natural sweetener and how it's made. The process, known as sugaring, is simple: small spouts, called spiles, are pounded into maple trees to allow sap to flow into hanging buckets or bags. The sap is clear and only slightly sweet, and plenty of it needs to be boiled down to create an appreciable amount of syrup.

"Sap is about 95 to 98 percent water," says Carla Reeb, executive director of the Troy Nature Society. "It takes literally 50 to 70 gallons of sap to get 1 gallon of maple syrup."

The society will present its final weekend of "Maple Syrup Time: Past and Present," a sugaring demonstration and historical presentation, at Lloyd A. Stage Nature Center on Saturday. Reeb says the program typically draws about 1,000 visitors over three weekends, and other parks report similarly high interest in their annual maple-flavored offerings. Kevin Arnold is the southern district interpretive manager at the Huron-Clinton Metroparks, which will present a number of sugaring programs this month.

"Anybody can do it," Arnold says. "You don't really need expensive equipment. You don't need high-tech equipment. Basically you need some sort of drill, a spile and a collection bucket, and you can make maple syrup."

UM's Simek says the appeal of sugaring is its status as a first sign of spring. People are ready to get outdoors when the sap starts flowing again — especially when it's a few weeks late.

"Cabin fever has set in and they're looking for opportunities to get outside, stretch their legs, get a little fresh air, maybe hear some birds singing once again and just go and see the trees starting to do what they do to help usher in spring in their own way," Simek says. "It's a real tradition and people really, really like it."

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.

Tasty activities

Maple's Sweet Story

Every half-hour 12 p.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and March 28 and 29

Kensington Metropark Farm Center

4570 Huron River Parkway, Milford

Tickets $3 per child, $5 per adult

(810) 227-8917

metroparks.com

Maple Sweetness

12 p.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, March 28 and 29

Wolcott Mill Metropark Historical Center

64000 Kunstman, Ray Township

Tickets $3 per child, $5 per adult

(586) 749-5997

metroparks.com

Maple Sugaring

Call for times, Saturday and March 28

Indian Springs Metropark

5200 Indian Trail, White Lake

Tickets $5

(248) 625-6640

metroparks.com

Syrup and Sugar

10 a.m. Saturday

Oakwoods Metropark

32911 Willow, New Boston

Tickets $4

(734) 782-3956

metroparks.com

Backyard Sugaring

2 p.m. Saturday

Oakwoods Metropark

32911 Willow, New Boston

Tickets $4

(734) 782-3956

metroparks.com

Maple Syrup Time: Past and Present

Every half-hour 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday

Lloyd A. Stage Nature Center

6685 Coolidge Hwy., Troy

Tickets $6 per child, $8 per adult

(248) 688-9703

troynaturesociety.org

Maple Syrup Tour

1 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. March 28

University of Michigan-Dearborn Environmental Interpretive Center

4901 Evergreen, Dearborn

Free

(313) 593-5338

umdearborn.edu/eic

Maple Sugar Festival

10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday

Eddy Discovery Center

17030 Bush Rd., Chelsea

Free

(734) 475-3170

chelseamich.com

Maple Syrup Experience

1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and March 28-29

Maybury Farm

50165 Eight Mile, Northville

Tickets $6

(248) 374-0200

facebook.com/maybury.farm

Note: Registration required or recommended for most events.

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