Getting into a sticky situation

June 18th, 2015 10:27 am

First Posted: 3/23/2015

LA PLUME — The smell of sweet maple syrup steam billowed from the Keystone College Sugar Shack as Shane Kleiner, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, a 1990 Keystone College graduate, and Keystone adjunct instructor tended to a fire beneath the large pans where sap was boiling.

Despite gusty winds and cold, more than 125 attendees gathered at an open house held at The Sugar Shack on the 165-acre Woodland Campus in La Plume on March 22.

Visitors had an opportunity to sample syrup, maple cream and candy and learn about the sugaring process at four stations: Tapping & Collecting with Brady Seeley, class of 2013; Maple Sugar Production, Kleiner, who is currently teaching a Maple Sugaring Field Biology course at Keystone; Finishing and Bottling with Jamie Wassell, class of 2011, French Creek State Park; and Backyard Maple Syrup Production with Joe Lick and grandchildren, Max and Reilly Lick.

Sharon Burke, director, Keystone College Environmental Education Institute (KCEEI), which is located on campus in Lackawanna Hall, welcomed visitors and distributed information. Children also visited the animals at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Tent with Angie Colarusso, licensed wildlife rehabilitator and Emily Rinaldi, Keystone College senior.

Professor Emeritus Howard Jennings, Clinton Township, founded the maple sugaring operation and the Keystone College Environmental Education Institute, (KCEEI) and although he has retired from teaching and his role as KCEEI director, he said he “helps out.”

“I enjoy being outside,” he said. “It (maple sugaring) is always a challenge and yet, when you start cooking and you smell that maple syrup starting to come alive, it’s a wonderful aroma.”

Jennings said the sugaring operation is very small, but it brings people to the Woodland Campus. “It’s run under our field biology course. It’s a way to promote the school and we put the emphasis on education. We are a very small operation. We tap about 275 trees. We do at best anywhere from 25 to 40 gallons and most of that we use for promotional purposes. We don’t sell our syrup.”

In an email interview, Burke said of Jennings’ contributions, “The Sugar Shack was built on Howard’s vision, coupled with the College’s long-term commitment to environmental stewardship.”

Richard Fitzsimmons, a resident of Falls, said he came to the open house because he wanted to learn more about the sugaring process.

“I have some trees on my property, which I’ve tapped and I haven’t been very successful, so I thought maybe I could learn something about the process and I enjoy the flavor,” he said. “I came with friends for something to do on a beautiful day. I wanted to ask a few questions and find out how they do it.”

One of his friends, Pudgy Raymond, also of Falls, noted Keystone College has environmental educational programs that are good for both students and regular people.”

Maple sugaring season officially began locally approximately three weeks ago when the trees were tapped while the ground was still blanketed with snow, and Burke noted maple sugaring season is totally dependent on Mother Nature.

“It lasts as long as there are below freezing nights and above freezing temps during the day. It is only under these conditions that sap runs,” she said.

“The ‘Rule of 86’ determines how many gallons of sap you need for one gallon of syrup,” added Burke. “You first must determine sugar content of sap and then divide 86 by sugar content. So if your sap had a sugar content of two percent,” which is about average, she noted, “you would need 43 gallons of sap for one gallon of syrup. Eighty-six divided by two…”