There is a new website about the Reynolds Brothers Mill and Logging operation in the community of Reynoldston in the Township of Brandon (Franklin County) which was in operation from 1870 – 1940.
“We have created this website to document the history of this small community using oral history tapes and transcripts we created in 1969/70 as well as with historical photographs and a range of related historical documentation,” according to local historian and website volunteer Bill Langlois.
Reynoldston is one of the many logging centered communities in the Adirondacks that prospered during the cutting of local forests but disappeared when those same forests were clear cut. The site already features oral history interviews, photographs and documents and is expected to expand to include material on Skerry in the Township of Brandon and the Bowen Mill as well as a wide range of other tapes and transcripts on the early history of Franklin County.
Governor David Paterson has proclaimed August as Forest Pest Awareness Month in New York State. Working with their northeast neighboring states, officials in New York are hoping to take the opportunity to educate citizens throughout the State about the risks associated with forest pests and pathogens, and the actions they can take to help safeguard New York’s valuable and abundant forests.
Throughout the month of August, Agriculture and Markets officials will be providing training for children and citizen groups to share information detection and identification, as well as reporting procedures for forest pests. Information will be focused on the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) and the Asian Longhorned Beetle (ALB), the State’s two highest profile and most serious forest pest threats that have a confirmed presence in New York State. » Continue Reading.
Nature is full of little tricks. Just when you think you know something, it turns out that the one you are looking at is something else. It’s enough to drive a naturalist nutty, but it’s also the driving influence that will force a naturalist to hone his/her observation skills.
Back in my undergraduate days, we had a professor who described the whole look-at-only-one-characteristic-and-draw-a-conclusion scenario as Speckled Alder Syndrome, stated with one’s hand open, palm facing one’s face about an inch from one’s nose. In other words, you are only seeing one thing and ignoring everything else that will help you make a correct identification.
I admit it: I suffer from Speckled Alder Syndrome. In all fairness, however, Mother Nature does conspire against us. And by “us” I mean all living things in general. From plants to reptiles, butterflies to parasites, the world is full of mimicry – living things that copy the looks of other living things all in an effort to deceive.
Mimicry comes in a variety of flavors: Batesian, Mullerian, Emsleyan, Wasmannina, Gilbertian, Browerian…and more. Most of us learn the basics of mimicry in high school biology, and usually by graduation we’ve forgotten all of it, except perhaps some of the examples, like monarch and viceroy butterflies.
What American child hasn’t grown up knowing about monarch butterflies? These large orange and black flappers are easy to identify and are the stuff of many an elementary school lesson on metamorphosis. Almost any child can recognize a monarch caterpillar, chrysalis and butterfly at a hundred paces. Well, maybe ten paces, but you get the idea.
Enter the viceroy. This is the butterfly we all learn about in biology as the one that mimics the monarch. There are a few differences that the trained eye can pick up, such as the smaller size, the extra black line across the hind wings, and the row of white spots that dot the black border band of those hind wings.
To the untrained eye, however, they look the same. This is mimicry at its best. Up until only a few years ago (the 1990s), everyone believed that the viceroy, thought to be a tasty morsel, was mimicking the monarch. We knew that monarch caterpillars ate milkweed, and that the sap from the milkweed made them taste bad. As adults, the bright orange and black coloration served to warn predators to leave them alone or suffer an upset stomach, or maybe even death.
What tasty morsel wouldn’t want to copy this? Why, if I taste good to predators, I’d want to make them think I taste bad so they would leave me alone. What better way to do so than to copy something that tastes bad? This is known as Batesian mimicry: something harmless mimicking something harmful.
As it turns out, however, viceroys also taste bad! As larvae, they feed on trees in the willow family (willows, poplars, cottonwoods). These trees contain salicylic acid, the stuff from which aspirin is made. Birds, or other predators, that eat a viceroy get the same reaction that some people get when taking regular aspirin: it tastes bitter and can cause an upset stomach. There are no buffered viceroys out there. One taste, and the predator will never again eat something that is orange and black. Mission accomplished.
This kind of mimicry, where you have two harmful species that look similar, is called Mullerian mimicry.
The viceroy’s mimicry doesn’t end here, though. As a caterpillar, and as a pupa, it takes on the appearance of a bird dropping. That’s right. The caterpillars are green and white, while the pupae are brown and white. What bird is going to snack on the previously digested remains of some other bird?
Then you have Emsleyan mimicry, where something deadly looks like something that is slightly less harmful. How can we be sure this isn’t just another case of Batesian, where something harmless looks like something dangerous? It all comes down to learning. If I eat something deadly and thus perish, how will I ever learn not to eat that thing? On the other hand, if I eat something that only makes me sick, I am likely to avoid anything that looks like the offending food. Therefore, by mimicking something less harmful, the deadly species increases its chance of being left alone.
Some forms of mimicry apply only to plants, some apply only within a single species. It’s enough to make the mind whirl.
I am learning not to take everything at face value. Most of the time I am not in such a hurry that I cannot take the time to take a second glance. Good observation skills are worth their weight in gold. You never know – you might just discover something new, even if it is only new to you.
The Tupper Lake Woodsmen’s Days, which has grown from a small local one-day affair to a large two-event attracting thousands of visitors, will be celebrating its 29th year this July 11th and 12th. The event features lumberjack and lady jack events, heavy equipment contests, the Adirondacks’ largest horse-pull, chain saw carvings, and a wide range of games and contests for geared toward the entire family.
The festivities kick off Friday evening and the public is invited to join with woodsmen, heavy equipment operators and representatives of the woods industry at the event’s annual banquet – this year being held at the Park Restaurant on Park Street in Tupper Lake, beginning at 6 p.m. Woodsmen’s Days will kick off at 10 a.m. Saturday morning with what organizers are calling “one of the largest parades ever staged in the North Country.” “The miles long procession, featuring well over 50 entries of floats, marching bands and logging equipment, will wind its way through the business district en route to the municipal park where the thrilling events take place,” according to a press notice.
Contestants (lumberjacks and lady jacks) from around the United States and Canada, will chop, saw, roll and maneuver heavy logs in a number of contests beginning at noon. The events that day will include open and modified chain sawing (four classes), cross-cut and buck-saw matches, log rolling, axe throwing, human log skidding, tree felling and horizontal log chop.
Last year Dave Engasser of Cortland and Julie Miller of Branchport were crowned 2009 Lumberjack of the Year and 2009 Lumberjill of the Year.
Outside the park staging area, as well as the lakefront area, various vendors and heavy equipment dealers will be on display. Games and contests, as well as a varied menu of food and refreshments will also be offered both days.
That afternoon, at 1 p.m. in the heavy equipment area, heavy equipment operators from around the northeast will face off in the popular loading competition.
A highlight of the evening will begin at 7 p.m. when youngsters compete in their own games. At 7:30 p.m., the men and women to take over the area to team up in various competitions including the tug-of-war and greased pole climb.
At noon Sunday, the Adirondacks’ largest horse pull will compete for nearly $4,000 in prizes in the heavy and lightweight horse pull divisions; skidding and truck driving competitions will begin at 1 pm. Last year Jon Duhaime emerged as the 2009 Heavy Equipment Operator of the Year.
For more information or a reservation for Friday’s banquet contact the Woodsmen’s Association at (518) 359-9444 or online at http://www.woodsmendays.com/.
In the late 19th century, a new fad swept the nation. Chewing gum was decried by newspaper editors and public pundits as “an essentially vulgar indulgence that not only shows bad breeding, but spoils a pretty countenance.” Nevertheless, the June 14, 1894 edition of the Malone Palladium commented, “No observant person can have failed to note the marked growth of the habit of chewing gum…in all parts of the country and among all classes.” The paper noted that even the “late Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York was a firm believer in spruce gum chewing.”
The gum-chewing craze began in the conifer forests of Maine and the Adirondacks. Made from the dried and crystallized sap of spruce trees, spruce gum was an important commercial crop in the Adirondack region during the 19th and early 20th centuries. » Continue Reading.
Out along the walkway coming down to the main building here at the VIC, we have an old, hollow snag. There’s a perfectly round hole in the side that I’ve often thought was ideal for a chickadee, but I’ve never seen a bird fly in or out of the tree. One year I took our Treetop Peeper, a cavity camera that is mounted on a telescopic pole, and tried to peek inside the hole, but the opening was a just a bit too small for the camera head, so I never found out if it was being used by birds or not. This morning, however, I heard a loud whack-whack-whack as I came down the walkway. I thought for sure a pileated woodpecker was drilling away, but instead what I saw was its much smaller cousin, the yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius).
First off, you have to love that name: yellow-bellied sapsucker. It sounds like an insult some rustic dude from the Old West might sling at another rustic dude about whom he had a poor opinion. But, when it comes to birds, it is a pretty apt descriptor. The bird, after all, does have a somewhat yellowish tint to its underside, and it does consume the sap of trees, although not by sucking. More on this in a bit. The sapsucker is one of the smaller woodpeckers in our area, coming in just behind the hairy. Like its relatives, its feathers are mostly black and white, with a touch of red. Both the male and female sport red caps, but only the male has a red throat patch (see photo). And like all good woodpeckers, the sapsucker has stiff tail feathers that act as supports while the bird climbs trees and whacks away at the wood.
When it comes to excavating trees, the sapsuckers make two types of feeding holes. The first kind is round and deep. Into these holes the bird plunges its beak to extract sap. The second type of hole is more rectangular and shallow. These holes are maintained over the course of several days to keep the sap flowing. The bird uses its brush-like tongue to lick up the flowing sap, and any insects that are stuck to it.
Now, there is an art to this whole hole-making jag. You can spot a sapsucker tree at a distance for it will have a series of horizontal rows of holes going around the trunk. The bird makes these rows, one on top of the next, for a reason: they dam up the flow of the phloem sap in the summer. Phloem sap? Time for a little tree physiology 101.
Trees have phloem and xylem – two “types” of wood. The xylem is the part that provides structure to the tree – most of the wood. It also contains the “vessels” through which water and nutrients rise from the roots to the leaves of the trees. It is xylem sap that maple sugerers tap in the spring to make the sweet stuff we put on our pancakes and waffles. It is mostly water.
Phloem, on the other hand, is the part of the tree (wood) that carries nutrients from the leaves back down towards the roots. It is closer to the outer edge of the trunk. The sap that runs through the phloem is thicker, being chocked full of all sorts of nutritious goodies: proteins, amino acids, sugars, etc. It doesn’t flow in the same manner that xylem sap flows. Which raises an interesting question among tree and bird folks: how does the sapsucker keep the flow, well, flowing?
Apparently scientists have studied this and have tried to come up with an answer with little success. Attempts at mimicking the sapsucker’s techniques have met with failure. The conclusion is that there must be some sort of anticoagulant in the bird’s saliva that keeps the tree’s sap fluid enough to flow. Kind of like vampire bat saliva, which has been found to be useful in medicines for patients suffering from blood clots and heart disease, but that’s fodder for another post.
So, we have these birds making row up on row of holes, creating a backlog of sap in the phloem cells above the holes. Each new row taps into this stored sap, providing nutrients not only to the sapsucker, but to a whole host of other animals, from squirrels and porcupines to warblers, hummingbirds and insects. In fact, the sapsucker has been given the label “keystone species” for the role it plays in maintaining food sources for a variety of lifeforms within its community.
Not only that, but it seems that these birds target trees that are often already in poor health. Apparently trees suffering from insect damage, weather damage (wind, lightning), or disease produce a greater amount of protein and amino acids in their sap – no doubt a last ditch effort to try and heal themselves. This extra nutrition is highly attractive to sapsuckers – a bigger bang for their buck, so to speak. This also means they are less likely to tap into healthy trees, which cuts down on the likelihood of the birds irritating foresters and the timber industry.
If you suspect you have yellow-bellied sapsuckers in your woods, you can find out fairly easily by listening. Not only do they have a cat-like call, but when they are whacking away on a tree, the sound is quite distinctive: you’ll hear a series of about five rapid whacks, followed by three or so slower, quieter whacks: WHACK-WHACK-WHACK-WHACK-WHACK …whack…whack…whack. Add this to the discovery of trees riddled with rows of holes, and you can be pretty sure that yellow-bellies have taken up residence in your neighborhood.
A little bit of sunshine, a little bit of rain, and suddenly the trees are in bloom. It starts off slowly, with our friend the shadbush, but before you know it, white blossoms are springing forth from trees and shrubs all around us. In just a short amount of time, the novelty of delicate white flowers can become mundane, as one flowering shrub starts to look like the next. Add to this some similarity in names, and it is not surprising that many of our native shrubs are unknown or misidentified. In an attempt to shed some light on this confusing subject, today I give you the pin cherry (Prunus pennsylvanica).
The pin cherry is a small tree, or a large shrub, I suppose, depending on how you look at it. Further south, in the Great Smokey Mountains, it can reach heights of 30 to 40 feet and a diameter of 20 inches. Around here, however, I’ve only seen it as a fairly small tree – a giant if it reaches ten feet. This could be because the deer browse it heavily in winter, preventing it from gaining much height. What it lacks in stature, however, it seems to make up for with stems – instead of a single trunk rising serenely above the surrounding vegetation, it grows into rather dense copses, sometimes mixed in with its relatives the choke cherries (P. virginiana), black cherries (P. serotina), and the look-alike choke berries (Aronia sp.). And when they all come into flower, they can be difficult for the novice to tell apart, especially at a distance. Pin cherry, also called fire cherry, bird cherry, wild cherry and red cherry, has long, narrow, dark green leaves that are very finely toothed along the edge. The delicate white flowers grow in clusters from single points along the branches, much like the needles on a white pine or larch. Each flower blossoms at the end of a long stem. When the flowers become fruits, they resemble large-headed pins, like the hat pins used by women long years ago. Today we might liken them to corsage pins.
The other common names are equally easy to interpret. The birds (and other wildlife) happily feed on the wild red fruits in fall. When a disturbance, like fire, moves through the forest, this pioneer species is one of the first to produce seedlings in the newly opened spaces. This is because the seeds can remain viable in the soil upwards of a hundred years! Just add sunshine and voila!
Insects also delight in this unassuming shrub. Spring brings bees and flies galore to sup at the flowers, making the whole plant buzz with life. Come summer, look for white trails on the leaves – these are the mines made by the larvae of a small moth known only by its scientific name: Bucculatrix copeuta. This moth is a true specialist, for its larvae feed on nothing but pin cherry leaves.
While a boon to wildlife wherever it grows, and a delight to the eye in the spring with its froth of flowers and in the fall with its glowing-coal-red leaves, to the logger pin cherry is naught but a weedy thing, a tree with no timber value. Reading through Donald Peattie’s A Natural History of Trees one can tell that this is a species for which the author has little regard, which is surprising considering the elegant prose and great praise he provides across most of the pages of this book.
Still, the fruits are edible by people as well as wildlife. I found a couple recipes online for pin cherry jelly and pudding. The important thing to remember is that the seeds/pits (as well as the leaves and bark) do contain hydrocyanic acid, which is toxic, so be sure you only eat the flesh of the fruit.
Last spring I planted a row of native shrubs/trees along the border of my property. Two of these plants were pin cherries. While each of the thirteen new shrubs was barely more than a stick with roots when placed in its new home, the pin cherries burst forth with blossoms this year. What a pleasant surprise when one isn’t expecting anything more productive than leaves for the next two or three years. I’m sure the birds will also appreciate the earlier-than-expected fruits when fall returns in a few months’ time.
Every spring, at about this time, there is a day when I step outside and find my olfactory senses drowning in a spicy sweet aroma. The scent is so powerful that it blocks out all other senses, the brain focusing on this and this alone. The fragrance brings to mind dark rooms filled with incense, or images of the ancient orient, and yet its source is completely and wholly native: balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera), an otherwise unassuming pioneer species of the boreal forest.
It took me several years to discover the source of this fragrance. I first encountered it while working in The Great Swamp in New Jersey. No one there knew what it was. I didn’t smell it again until I came to the Adirondacks, and that first spring, there it was. My head snapped up and I looked around. “I’ve smelled this before,” my nose was telling me. Scent is a powerful memory stimulant, and this scent is one of the strongest. My search for an answer began. » Continue Reading.
Nearly six billion people inhabit our planet and depend on trees for materials to build houses, produce paper, assemble furniture and to simply stay warm. This results in tremendous pressure on the world’s forests and has necessitated the establishment of sustainable forestry management practices.
Sustainable forestry management refers to the attempt to achieve balance between society’s increasing demands for forest products and benefits with the preservation of forest health and diversity. Sustainable forestry management is defined as the stewardship and use of forests and forest lands in a way, and at a rate, that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and their potential to fulfill, now and in the future, relevant ecological, economic and social functions, at local, national, and global levels, and that do not cause damage to other ecosystems. Growing environmental awareness and consumer demand for more socially responsible businesses helped third-party forest certification emerge in the 1990s as a credible tool for communicating the environmental and social performance of forest operations. These independent organizations develop standards of good forest management, and through independent auditors issue certificates to forest operations that comply with standards. Certification verifies that forests are well-managed and ensures that certain wood and paper products come from responsibly managed forests.
Today more than 45 certification systems exist worldwide with the American Tree Farm System, Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) most active in New York State and the Adirondack Park. All three of these organizations require compliance with all applicable Federal, State and Local laws in order to receive certification.
The first step to complying with applicable laws is identification of those laws. While forest management activities are not generally regulated by the Adirondack Park Agency, certain forestry uses may trigger Park Agency jurisdiction. To assist forestry professionals and landowners identify applicable laws in their certification efforts, agency staff developed an educational program titled “Promoting Systematic Forest Management Environmental Compliance.”
This program reviews applicable Agency laws and regulations for jurisdictional activities such as: clear cutting, shoreline restrictions, wetlands and Forestry Uses on lands classified as Resource Management. It covers the Adirondack Park Agency Act, NYS Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act and the NYS Freshwater Wetlands Act.
The program is designed for a wide range of forestry professionals and landowners including loggers, foresters, private non-industrial and industrial forest landowners, auditing entities and raw material consumers. It contains valuable information not only for those seeking certification, but also anyone who may be undertaking forest management activities within the Adirondack Park.
To schedule a program presentation, please contact the Adirondack Park Agency at 518.891.4050.
Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s investigation into the state’s purchase of Lyon Mountain and nearby lands from the Adirondack Nature Conservancy stems from a perception—fostered by the New York Post—that the state overpaid for the property.
It’s easy to see how suspicions might arise. The Nature Conservancy paid $6.3 million for the twenty thousand acres in 2004 and sold it to the state four years later for $9.8 million.
A $3.5 million profit, right?
Well, not so fast. The conservancy says it spent $3.4 million in taxes, interest, and other “carrying costs.” If these are taken into account, the organization made only $100,000 on the deal. Nevertheless, the conservancy says the state did not factor the carrying costs into the purchase price. Yet Fred Monroe, executive director of the Local Government Review Board, is not so sure. It was Monroe who tipped off the Post to the story.
In an interview with the Adirondack Explorer last week, Monroe suggested that the state could have inflated the price without the conservancy’s knowledge, out of a sense of obligation to its partner in land preservation.
Of course, this would require that one or more of the state’s appraisers were in on the fix. But perhaps it needn’t have been an outright conspiracy. Appraising is not an exact science. As Monroe notes, an appraiser can place an estimate on the low end or high end of a range in accord with his client’s interest. Thus, the appraiser for the homeowner is likely to come up with a higher appraisal for a house than the appraiser for the potential buyer.
The difference in the Nature Conservancy deal is that the buyer (the state) presumably wanted a high appraisal.
If we accept all this, there is still a problem with Monroe’s theory.
As it turns out, the conservancy says it hired Fountain Forestry to appraise the twenty thousand acres in 2004. Since the conservancy was buying the property, we can assume, following Monroe’s own logic, that the appraiser would low-ball the estimate.
Fountain’s appraisal: $9.1 million.
That’s $300,000 higher than LandVest, one of the appraisers hired by the state, valued the property in 2008, four years later. The state’s other appraiser, the Sewall Company, applied different criteria and came up with an estimate of $11 million—or $1.2 million more than the state ended up paying.
So we have three professional appraisals from private companies, ranging from $8.8 million to $11 million.
What’s more, an expert in the state Department of Environmental Conservation critiqued the LandVest and Sewall appraisals and came up with his own estimate of the land’s value: $9.5 million. Then a second DEC expert reviewed the two companies’ appraisals again and his colleague’s critique and came up with yet another estimate: $9.8 million. This is what the state paid.
That gives us five appraisals. The purchase price, though based on the fourth-highest appraisal, falls in the middle of the range.
The question remains: if the property was appraised at $9.1 million in 2004, why did the Nature Conservancy pay only $6.3 million?
There is a simple explanation. The appraisal looked at the property in isolation. In fact, the Nature Conservancy acquired the land as part of a three-way transaction involving 104,000 acres owned by Domtar Industries. The conservancy bought twenty thousand acres, and Lyme Timber bought the rest. Given the scale of the transaction, the conservancy was able to negotiate a lower price—a wholesale price, if you will.
Furthermore, Domtar and Lyme might have been willing to cut the conservancy a good deal as a reward for brokering the transaction. The New York Post story that prompted Cuomo’s inquiry didn’t delve into any of these details. It merely assumed, based on the difference between the two selling prices, that the conservancy pocketed a huge profit at taxpayer expense.
The Post‘s assumption seems overly simplistic. Nevertheless, we now have a state investigation. Of course, it will be the taxpayers who will be paying for that.
Photo from Lyon Mountain’s summit taken by Phil Brown.
Some of the nation’s best collegiate woodsmen’s teams (lumberjacks and –jills) will gather at Paul Smith’s College this month for the 64th annual Spring Meet competition, the biggest collegiate event in timbersports. About 45 teams from 15 colleges and universities are expected for the two-day competition, which will take place on Friday, April 23, and Saturday, April 24. More than 1,000 spectators are expected.
Paul Smith’s has fielded a woodsmen’s team since 1948, the year of the first Spring Meet. Men’s, women’s, and mixed (jack-and-jill) teams will compete in events including sawing, chopping, axe throwing, log rolling, speed climbing and canoeing. Paul Smith’s is a perennial contender among the nation’s best teams. It holds the record for most consecutive Spring Meet victories (10), and its men’s team is the defending champion. The defending women’s team is from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
In addition to the Spring Meet competition, the STIHL Timbersports Northeast Collegiate Challenge will be held at Paul Smith’s on Saturday, April 24, and taped for future broadcast on ESPNU.
The action begins at 7:45 a.m. both days and continues into the afternoon. Events are free and open to the public. Competitions will be held on the lawn in front of the college’s Joan Weill Adirondack Library, as well as Lower St. Regis Lake.
The winner of the STIHL Timbersports events will move on to the collegiate finals, from which a competitor will earn the chance to compete on the STIHL Timbersports professional tour.
Photo: Matt Barkalow, a member of the Paul Smith’s College woodsmen’s team, competes in a sawing event. Photo by Pat Hendrick.
Loggers win the 2010 Adirondack Bracket. The legendary industry that defined life in the Adirondacks during the boom period of American expansion in the late 19th and early 20th century was dominated by that era’s vertically integrated corporate giants like International Paper and Finch, Pruyn & Co. In contrast, today’s landscape is a vast horizontal tangle* of protected lands, timber investment management organizations, environmental regulations, industry mechanization, international tariff wars, and a deep economic recession, set in motion by the swift currents of global economic trade. In this environment, as on the massive log drives one hundred fifty years ago, survival favors the smaller more agile operator: the independent logger. Eric Fahl is an independent logger from Franklin Falls whose down-sized business model was profiled in Adirondack Life in February 2003. No employees, no capital-intensive equipment, no big jobs, Fahl focuses on small lots, often the result of large parcel residential subdivision:
There’s more than enough work if you’re willing to stay small. . . There are no employees here and there will be no employees here. As soon as you start cutting high volumes, you have to find high volumes to cut.”
True to the mantra of flexibility, Fahl has, for the past five years, served as forestry consultant to North Country School/Camp Treetops, where he also instructs students in the principles of sustainable forestry.
*To place the Adirondack’s in the proper context of global timber/lumber/pulp trade, consider the following comparison:The province of Quebec has 207.3 million acres of timberland, about 120 million acres of that softwood. The entire six million acres within the Adirondack Blue Line—forest and non-forest, public and private—is one twentieth of this fraction of a fraction of Canada’s entire timber reserve.
It’s bright sunny days like we’ve had for most of this month that bring maple sugaring to mind. There’s just something about the quality of the light that says it’s sugar season. And sure enough, Wednesday morning I heard the first newscast from a sugar house. So, I thought I’d jump in with the best of ‘em and write a post about the sweetness of spring: maple syrup. Maple sugaring and natural history go hand-in-hand. At least it has seemed that way to me, for most places where I have worked have operated some sort of sugaring operation. One ran a small scale commercial operation (see photo), but the majority were simple demonstration set-ups, where visitors walked a “sugaring trail”, each stop featuring a different time in the history of sugaring, from the Native hatchet in a tree with a wooden bowl on the ground to catch the dripping sap, to high tech tubing that brought the sap directly to the sugar shack.
My favorite, however, was the final stop on the sugaring trail we had in New Jersey. The guys on the staff built a device called a “lazy man’s balance”, consisting of a long arm (log) balanced across the fork of an upright log, with a kettle suspended from one end and a heavy rock tied to the other end to act as a counter-balance. The kettle was filled with sap and dangled above a fire, which boiled off the water. What made this set-up so fascinating to me, however, was the simplicity of the engineering: as the water evaporated, the kettle lost weight. As the kettle lost weight, it would rise a bit higher from the fire. This ingenious device would allow the syrup to condense without scorching.
One of the best things about visiting a sugar bush is getting to sample the merchandise, so to speak. While commercial outfits provide samples in hopes that you will buy some syrup or sugar to take home, nature centers have a different take on it: they just want you to try the stuff. The best sample tables not only give you a taste of maple syrup, but they also test your tasting skills. For example, one place where I worked had samples from sugar, red and Norway maples, Vermont Maid and Golden Griddle (the former has something like 3% real maple syrup, while the latter has none), and a syrup we made from potatoes. Visitors would spear a chunk of Italian bread on a toothpick and dip it into a cup of syrup to taste it. The goal was to pick out which was the real maple syrup. I grew up on the real stuff, so it always amazed me when people couldn’t pick out the real from the fake. And, just for the record, the potato syrup was often picked as the real McCoy.
Which brings us to sugar versus red versus Norway versus black maple. All maple trees produce a sweet sap that can be tapped and boiled to make a sweet golden syrup. So why the hoopla over sugar maple? Because sugar maple (Acer saccharum) has the greatest quantity of sugar per gallon of sap. In other words, you need a lot less sap from a sugar maple to produce a gallon of syrup than you would from a red, black, or Norway maple. And how much is that? The general rule of thumb is 40 gallons of sugar maple sap to produce one gallon of sugar maple syrup. For red maple, you need upwards of 80 gallons of sap to get that single gallon of syrup. On the other hand, red maples (Acer rubrum) are a lot more common across a larger portion of the US than sugar maples, so for many folks they are the tree of choice.
Sugar production doesn’t start and end with maple trees, however. If one travels to Alaska, or Siberia, one will find syrup produced from birch trees. Birch syrup has a different flavor, so don’t dump a bunch on your pancakes and expect it to taste the same. It is described as being a bit more spicy and reminiscent of sorghum or horehound candy. And if you think maple syrup is expensive, birch syrup is even more so. This is because it requires almost 100 gallons of sap to produce a single gallon of syrup, there aren’t many people producing it, and it is therefore considered a gourmet item.
March is the time to visit a sugar bush near you. And you might want to take in more than one, because each sugar operation may offer something a little different. Here in the 21st century you can see the whole spectrum of a sugaring operation from a sugar shack that’s deep in the woods and uses horses and sledges to haul the sap from the trees to the evaporators, to a high tech operation that uses a vacuum set-up to suck the sap out of the trees, and then applies reverse osmosis to remove water before the sap even sees the glint of an evaporator pan. A perusal of maple operations in the Adirondacks will turn up outfits at both ends of the scale. So get out your mud boots, grab a road map, and hit the woods – you won’t want to let this springtime tradition pass you by.
The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) will hold its regularly scheduled monthly meeting this Thursday March 11 and Friday March 12, 2010 at APA Headquarters in Ray Brook, NY. Among the topics to be discussed will be amendments to the Batchellerville Bridge replacement project permit, a discussion of proposed “boathouses” and “dock” definitions, Terrestrial and Aquatic Invasive Species, amendments to the Town of Queensbury’s Approved Local Land Use Program, and a discussion of sustainable forest certification programs. » Continue Reading.
Two new land deals were announced this week closing to the public 1,700 acres returned to Finch Pruyn, and protecting 1,400 acres in an Open Space Institute (OSI) conservation easement deal.
In a deal announced late last week, Finch Paper re-acquired from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) a 1,700-acre tract in Indian Lake, Hamilton County that was part of the 161,000 acres TNC purchased in 2007. Finch retained the right to re-acquire the parcel as a condition of the 2007 agreement. The land will not be open to the public. In a second deal, also announced late last week, the OSI acquired through donation a conservation easement on 1,400 largely wooded acres in the northeast corner of the Adirondack Park from the Johanson family. The parcel includes lands along the shoreline of Butternut Pond and on Pok-O-Moonshine Mountain, a popular destination for rock climbers, hikers and cross-country skiers. » Continue Reading.
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