Mark your calendars for one of the first outdoor festivals of the season. The 54th Highland County Maple Festival will be held over the weekends of March 10-11 and March 17-18. The weather can be unpredictable in March so watch the forecast and hope for some sunshine.
Despite one of the warmest winters on record, maple sugar producers remain optimistic about this year’s harvest. With a proper combination of warm and cold temperatures syrup can be made until buds begin to form on the trees. Bruce Folks of Blue Grass taps more than 1,670 trees in what has been described as one of the most high tech maple sugar operations in the country. Sugar water from the trees is fed from the mountain slopes through a network of more than 12 miles of tubing to a vacuum pump. A reverse osmosis machine then removes enough of the water to substantially reduce the time and fuel necessary to cook the syrup. While visiting Highland County for the Maple Festival you can tour modern production facilities as well as traditional producers who still collect their sugar water in buckets, and then man a wood fire in the reduction process. Either way the result is rich tasting Virginia Maple Syrup.
To complete the day grab a dozen fresh, hot, maple flavored donuts and visit many of the arts and crafts venues. The lodge will be opening for the season on April 5th, but in the meantime I highly recommend the Highland Maple Festival to get an early mountain fix.