CHILLICOTHE, Ill. (WMBD) — If you see blue tubes weaving through the trees at Camp Wokanda in Chillicothe, it’s a sign that maple syrup season has begun.
The nature center harvests thousands of gallons a year to yield around 100 gallons of sweet and sticky syrup.
Camp manager Jacob Mol started making syrup at Wokanda around six years ago and says when the weather starts to warm up in March, they immediately start tapping trees for sap.
“When temperatures are above freezing during the day and below freezing at night, that’s when the sap will flow really well,” Mol said.
He says there are several different species of maple trees, but camp Wokanda has hit the jackpot.
“Predominantly, we have all sugar maple trees,” Mol said. “Which is the best kind of maple for syrup because it has the highest percentage of sugar content.”
Mol says sap begins as a clear and watered-down liquid. After going through a multistep process including reverse osmosis, evaporation, and filtering, it becomes the golden syrup people know and recognize.
“You have to take 40 gallons of sap, and cook it down to one gallon of syrup, so you gotta take about 39 gallons of water out,” he said.
Staff drill a small hole into the trunk of a tree and sap flows from the spile into the tubing. Mike Miller, a supervisor of environmental services at the Peoria Park District, said Wokanda uses an ecologically efficient network of tubes to transport sap to a collection tank.
“We’re able to gravity flow a lot of sap,” Miller said.
In comparison to collecting sap in open-faced buckets, the tube method is cleaner and quicker.
Miller says their syrup is a unique product, unlike artificially flavored and corn syrup based ones in grocery stores.
“It’s a pure maple product, it’s, it’s locally grown, and locally harvested,” Miller said, “and all of the proceeds go back to Peoria Park District and Camp Wokanda.”
Mol says this season, they’ll bottle around 80 to 100 gallons of syrup.
Miller encourages everyone to try it and to snag a bottle at the Park District’s Earth Week event on April 24, 2021.
“Pancakes will never taste the same if you go back to the corn syrup,” Miller said.