Last year was the worst year ever for sugar content, but this year's maple syrup is back to normal, according to Everett Sechler, owner of the Sechler Sugar Shack in Somerset County. "We've already made a third of what we made last year. We're hoping that we do not have an early spring because if it turns to spring, that will speed up the buds in the trees, and the sugar season will be over. The 10-day forecast looks like it's going to remain cold except for two days, and the trees should perhaps pour the sap out those two days."
Sechler himself got into the business in 1983, but he has documentation that his great-great grandfather produced maple syrup in 1853 before serving as a Lincoln volunteer in the Civil War, and he came back to make more syrup after sustaining wounds at Gettysburg and in the Wilderness. Many of today's producers have the German names of early settlers in Somerset County, which Sechler said has the ideal elevation and soil conditions for both hard maple sugar trees and soft red maples. There weren't any sugar trees in Germany, but the legend is that the settlers learned how to tap trees from Native Americans, who sweetened their water with sap.
The technology used in maple syrup production changes every year, said Sechler, to the point where his great-great grandfather wouldn't recognize much of the process if he visited the modern facilities--and, the equipment is expensive.
This year's Pennsylvania Maple Festival in Meyersdale will be Saturday, March 16 through Sunday, March 24.