You don’t have to go to New England to see how maple syrup is made — you can go to Thurmont, Maryland, for Cunningham State Falls State Park’s 48th annual Maple Syrup Festival, held March 10-11 and 17-18. Although most maple syrup made in the U.S. comes from Northeastern states, Maryland is actually in the top 10 for syrup production, according to festival lit. In fact, sugar maples grow all across the United States and Canada and can thrive as far south as northern Florida.
At the festival, held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, park rangers demonstrate syrup making, holding talks at the top of each hour. Festival attendees can talk to workers tending a tub of boiling syrup about technique and the differences in color in the products.
At a separate station, a man explains how the sap boiler works and shows where the finished product comes out of a tap. But, he explains, there are no demonstrations of the contraption this year, due to the small amount of syrup the trees are producing. Weather can affect this, he said, and the huge temperature swings from hot to cold have not been helping.
Two nearby trees had been tapped and were equipped with buckets to catch the slowly dripping, clear, sticky liquid. More trees had been tapped on the north side of the park, and those patient enough to wait for their turn for a hayride could get a closer look.
Those interested in tasting Maryland-made maple syrup for themselves could partake in the pancake-and-sausage breakfast available throughout the festival. At noon, there had to be at least 200 people in the line outside the door to the Lakeside Grill, but only 50 or so in the line to buy their own bottle of maple syrup, so if you go, plan ahead for this waiting period.
It was not required to have a child in a stroller or one strapped to your chest, but most attendees did. If you’re going to wait in these lines, maybe bring a sippy cup and a Ziploc bag of Goldfish crackers.
Festival organizers also have a tent set up with children’s activities, including decorating maple leaves. Bales of hay in the tent provide seating for those who want to watch the bluegrass band, which played numerous favorites last weekend, including the Doobie Brothers’ Black Water.
Many children were drawn to the shore of William Houck Lake, where they tried to get as close as they could to the water without getting their sneakers wet (many failed). A diversion offering more fun and less danger of discomfort was the nearby playground.
Also part of the fun was face painting (beware: another line) where you could be transformed into an owl, butterfly or another creature of your choice. In the nature center, children could sit and listen to stories.
For the first time this year, the festival is holding a 1.5-mile fun run along the road lined with the sap-producing trees. The run will be Saturday, March 17, at 9:30 a.m.
When you’ve had your fill of the festival, head over to check out the falls. It’s an easy half-mile walk to the 78-foot waterfall, which is the tallest in the state.
The park operates a beach and campground throughout the summer, so come and make a weekend out of it after school lets out!
Maple Syrup Festival, Cunningham Falls State Park, William Houck Area, 14039 Catoctin Hollow Rd, Thurmont; $3 per person, children in car seats free; extra fee for face painting and breakfast.