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This Weekend: Go on a maple sugar hike

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You might be wary of anyone announcing that spring is coming given Chicago's icy temps and snowfalls, but the plants know. Thus maple sugar tapping and hikes have begun at Ryerson Woods Conservation Area in Riverwoods.

“With our longer daylight time, plants and animals sense that spring is coming,” said Jen Berlinghof, an environmental educator with the Lake County Forest Preserves.

Berlinghof is in charge of Ryerson’s maple sugar hikes that begin this weekend and continue on Saturday and Sunday through March 16, 2014.

The hikes begin with about a half-hour of why, therefore and tastings at Ryerson’s Welcome Center before heading to the sugar maple bush.

“They’ll learn about what’s happening inside the trees each season and how different seasons affect the sap,” said Berlinghof. She explained that when the weather warms during the day and drops below freezing at night, the sap that was at the roots in winter starts rising. The forest preserves’ staff began tapping last week when a recent thaw started the rising process.

The program includes tasting syrup tapped the previous year, practice drilling into a log, learning how to identify sugar maples by their bark and branch patterns, checking the buckets for sap and stopping at an evaporation tank where the sap is dumped so it can boil down to syrup.

“The sap starts out as mostly water and 2 percent sugar. It’s boiled down to 66 percent sugar,” Berlinghof said.

Hikes are Saturdays and Sundays beginning this weekend through March 16. Hike times available March 1 are at 1 and 2:30 p.m. and on March 2 at 2:30 p.m. Following weekends times are available on the half hour from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Cost is $6.

To learn more or register for a hike call 847-968-3321or visit Maple Sugar Hike.

Ryerson Woods is on the west side of Riverwoods Road between Deerfield and Half Day (Illinois Highway 22) Roads at 21950 N. Riverwoods Road, Riverwoods, IL 60015.

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