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Decades of Sweet Tradition: Maple Syrup Programs Offered

February 12, 2024 03:27 PM
© Tim Elliott

For more than four decades, educators and volunteers at the Lake County Forest Preserves have led wildly popular Maple Syrup Hikes at Ryerson Conservation Area in Riverwoods. Each March, families, school groups and scout troops learn about the process of converting sap from the preserve's towering sugar maple trees into sweet syrup.

“Starting a maple syrup hike is not just a journey into the woods; it's a journey into learning about nature's sugary secret,” said Director of Education Alyssa Firkus. 

The springtime tradition kicks off on Saturday, March 2. Hikes start at Ryerson Welcome Center and are offered on Saturdays and Sundays through March 17. Led by Lake County Forest Preserves educators and volunteers, the one-hour hikes run every half-hour from noon to 2 pm and are open to all ages.

The temperature dictates what visitors will see along the trails, said Environmental Educator Jen Berlinghof. “The timing for tapping maple trees comes down to temperature–above freezing during the day but still below freezing at night–plus precipitation and the hours of sunlight in a day,” she said.

Changing temperature is what causes the sap to surge upward from the roots toward the branches, where it helps the leaves grow and the buds bloom. Then in the summer, the leaves will produce more sap, which will settle back down in the roots by winter, Berlinghof said.

“Visitors can witness the science of turning sap from sugar maple trees into maple syrup. All registered participants can have a taste,” she said.

Ryerson Conservation Area is a great place to experience the maple syrup tradition due to its large stands of Sugar Maple trees and high-quality soil. Syrup production only happens in late winter and early spring.

Tickets for Maple Syrup Hikes are required. Hikes fill up quickly, so register early. Cost is $7 per person for residents and $9 for nonresidents. Children ages 3 and under are free. Purchase tickets online or call 847-968-3321. Special sessions designed for scouts or other large groups are also available. Call 847-968-3321 to register a group.

Throughout March, teachers and scout leaders are encouraged to reserve in-person field trips. The experience includes learning where we use the maple syruping process to address Illinois learning standards, Berlinghof said. Learn more about maple syruping school programs online or email to begin the registration process.

Free self-guided Maple Syrup Hikes are available March 18 through 31. Explore the maple magic at your own pace as you stroll along a designated trail with a series of informational signs, "transforming a delightful walk into an educational experience," Berlinghof said. “Uncover the fascinating science behind the sap's journey from tree to syrup, transforming your walk into an educational and delightful experience.”

Browse all education programs and register online at, or call 847-968-3321. Follow along social media @LCFPD for more educational resources, webinars and videos.

Media Contact: Jen Berlinghof,